Sinclair/Tribune Foes Remain Unmoved

As expected, the companies and groups that lined up to oppose or strongly criticize the proposed Sinclair/Tribune merger were not ready to bury the hatchet and sing kumbaya in response to Sinclair's vigorous defense of the deal's public interest benefits.

They lined up to take their shots in reply comments due at the end of the day Wednesday.

In filing after filing, members of the Coalition to Save Local Media said Sinclair had fallen far short of the mark and the $3.9 billion dollar deal should be denied.

"Sinclair has failed to explain how this multi-billion-dollar merger could possibly be in the public interest,” said Computer & Communications Industry Association President Ed Black. “That’s supposed to be the requirement the FCC is charged with overseeing. It’s a concern that a merger that would be so harmful to rural areas, independent news stations and citizens could even be considered.”

The Competitive Carriers Association signaled in its comments that Sinclair had not assuaged their concerns about its power as force in the post-incentive auction repack—Sinclair/Tribune will have more repacking stations than any other group.

“Competitive carriers spent significant capital purchasing additional spectrum in the 600 MHz incentive auction, and continue to use significant resources to work with stakeholders to ensure a safe, timely, and an efficient post-auction repack,” said CCA President Steven K. Berry. “If the Sinclair-Tribune transaction is approved as contemplated, competitive carriers may be subject to unwarranted costs and negatively impacted by any disruption to the repack process to the detriment of consumers.”

“Sinclair and Tribune have failed to show any positive, transaction-specific public interest benefits from the proposed merger, and fail to address the significant public interest harms,” said Yosef Getachew, policy fellow at Public Knowledge.

"The Applicants brand themselves as a savior of local broadcasting by touting their plan to become a national network," Public Knowledge said. "Sinclair’s plan to become a national network, along with its centralized news model, directly contradicts the Commission’s public interest mandate to promote broadcast localism."

The Sports Fans Coalition, which advocates for sports fan access to games, warned that the combined company would be a threat to local sports.

For its part, in a 47-page filing with the FCC, not including numerous attachments and exhibits, Sinclair said that one of the big public interest benefits of the deal was as a boost to free, over-the-air broadcasting. Sinclair says scale is essential to the future of the business, mainly to keep up with the consolidation on the distributor side.

Sinclair noted that there were not any non-broadcasters stepping up to buy Tribune. No Amazon or Netflix, which are investing big bucks in programming, but only broadcasters seem to want to invest in broadcasting.

If scale is needed, then consolidation is as well. The money seems to be going into over-the-top, which has no public interest obligations, rather than broadcasting.

Sinclair took aim at the assertion that the deal was a threat to localism. It says the 72% of the nation it will be reaching will not be getting the same content. With the UHF discount, that 72% will be reduced to about 45% coverage, which Sinclair will whittle down to below the 39% national audience cap via spin-offs and waivers, unless the FCC takes action to loosen local ownership rules before the deal vetting is done.

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.