Sinclair to Senate Dems: Let's Talk

Sinclair Broadcast Group has responded to a request from Senate Democrats for a hearing on its proposed merger with Tribune Media.

That comes in the wake of a letter from those Democrats to Senate Commerce Committee chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) seeking the hearing on the deal, and on an associated FCC decision that would help clear the way for it.

House Democrats also want a hearing on the deal.

In response to the news that the request had been made, Sinclair senior VP of strategy and policy Rebecca Hanson said: “We appreciate the senators’ interest in this important transaction and look forward to working with policymakers to discuss the significant benefits this deal will provide for local viewers and communities across the country."

The deal hinges on whether the FCC's decision to reinstate the UHF discount stands. That reinstatement has been challenged in court by anti-consolidation activists concerned about Sinclair’s Tribune acquistion and other potential deals.

But Sinclair argues that boosting its station totals is an attempt to keep up with the size and scale of competitors without similar ownership limits. "At a time of rapidly accelerating competition from the nation’s largest cable, satellite, wireless and internet companies, the combined Sinclair-Tribune will have the wherewithal to compete through innovation, including the roll out of ‘Next Gen’ television and enhanced investment in local news and original programming," Hanson said.

The FCC has proposed allowing TV broadcasters to roll out ATSC 3.0, that next-generation standard, of which Sinclair has been a big backer.

In the June 5 letter, eight Senate Democrats — all familiar opponents of media consolidation — said they wanted a hearing on both the deal and the FCC's UHF discount decision, which the letter said circumvents the 39% national audience-reach cap created by Congress. The discount actually had been in place for three decades before the FCC, under former Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler, voted to eliminate it last fall.

The senators said they were concerned about the level of media concentration the deal would create, giving Sinclair more than 200 TV stations (it currently has 173) and a pre-discount reach of 72% of the national audience. They were also concerned about its impact on the public interest, including diversity and localism.

"Senate hearings will provide critical transparency for the many American consumers who will be impacted by the deal," the senators said.

Signing on to the letter were Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Al Franken (Minn.), Cory Booker (N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.