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Sinclair Eyes More Acquisitions, Dismisses Government Threat

Sinclair Broadcast Group, fresh off its acquisitions of the Four Points Media and Freedom Broadcasting groups, suggested it was not yet done wheeling and dealing on its earnings call Feb. 8.

David Smith, president and CEO, said he was keen on Big Four affiliates in midsize markets. "If we see opportunities to go after acquisitions, then we'll certainly consider them the same way we considered Freedom and Four Points," he said. "We're prepared to get bigger if need be -- if we see the benefit of leverage associated with it."

Sinclair reported net broadcast revenues of $180.8 million for the fourth quarter, a decrease of 4.9% from the previous year's fourth quarter. But core broadcast revenue was up nearly 12% in the quarter.

Smith, one of the most vocal broadcasters on spectrum issues, dismissed the notion of a spectrum shortage, and did not seem worried about the FCC coming around to claim it from local TV owners. "We certainly have nothing for sale. The idea that the government wants to take spectrum space and sell it for $25 billion, with the net effect for the government of $6 billion, based on recent numbers I've seen, is so immaterial," he said. "It's almost sad that the government would even contemplate disrupting a business like the broadcasting industry over a few billion dollars."

Smith similarly did not seem worried about proposed legislation that would overhaul retrans relations between broadcasters and subscription TV operators. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) introduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act in December; Smith dismissed it as "background noise."

"I don't think it will ever get any traction in the grand scheme of things," he said. "It's just background noise on the part of the cable folks, trying to get government to come in and do their work for them."

On a happier note, Sinclair's braintrust said 2012 looks positively rosy thanks in large part to the super PACs contributing mightily to their preferred candidates' campaigns. "The PAC money we've witnessed so far is more than interesting," said Steve Marks, COO. "It's really an eye opener. One month into it, it's very interesting."

Smith added that the big PAC cash will come after the GOP settles on its candidate for 2012 election. "It's just going to be fascinating to watch," he said. "I've never seen anything like this before."