Sinclair Poised To Become Major Syndie Force

When Sinclair melds with Tribune, it will surpass the Fox station group in terms of market reach and becomes, I believe, the first stop of syndicators selling new shows. It will be able to deliver a program to at least two-thirds of the nation's TV homes all by itself. And Sinclair will have even more muscle in negotiating terms. In fact, it will be in a position to demand equity in the shows it agrees to carry.

In talking about the ramifications of Sinclair’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media a few weeks ago, one thing I didn’t address was its impact on Sinclair’s place in the program syndication business. It will be considerable.

To recap, the deal is a blockbuster. It will swell Sinclair’s station count to 233 and extend its reach to 72% of TV homes and 108 TV markets, including 39 of the top 50 and seven of the top 10.

This is, of course, if the courts don’t stay the FCC’s April decision raising the cap on national station group coverage to 78%.

Sinclair has been an important program buyer since the 1990s when it began creating duopolies in many of its markets by exploiting loopholes in the rules and then the easing of the rules.

Before they quite knew what was happening, the studios discovered that they had to deal with some guys in Baltimore if they wanted to clear shows in the middle markets. And as I recall they weren’t really happy about it, although they would never say that publicly. The guys in Baltimore were rather stingy.

As Sinclair’s station portfolio grew so did its clout in Hollywood. But it was always a secondary player because it didn’t have the major markets. It didn’t have New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It wasn’t a bona fide launch group.


That changes if Sinclair can cement the Tribune deal. It will not only have New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but also four other top 10 markets — Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington and Houston. (Washington has been in the lineup since 2014 when Sinclair bought WJLA there along with the rest of the Allbritton group.)

Sinclair will arguably become the most important force in what I’ll call the tier-two syndication market.

There are two first-run syndication businesses in broadcasting. The first involves the big studios creating big budget shows for Big Three affiliates. Think Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, Judge Judy and Steve Harvey.

Nothing is happening in that business right now and nothing is expected to happen anytime soon. The affiliates are happy enough with the shows they have and neither the studios nor the broadcasters want to risk millions to see if they can come up something better.

Even with Tribune, Sinclair will have no more say-so in this market than other groups station groups like Tegna and Scripps.

The tier-two syndication business involves studios — big and small — creating shows for Fox, CW and MNT affiliates and independents of various stripes. Unlike the Big Three affiliates, they get no help from networks in filling the daytime and latenight hours.

Today, the business comprises conflict shows like Jerry Springer and Maury, a slew of court shows and various odds and ends. It’s a relatively active market with shows regularly coming and going.

This is the business the Sinclair will likely come to dominate post-merger.

Today, the two most important buyers in the tier-two market are Fox and Tribune because they have the major-market outlets and lots of time to fill.

A syndicator with a new show pitches it first to Fox and Tribune. If one bites, it then goes to Sinclair to get the middle markets. And if Sinclair signs on, its work is pretty much done. It just needs to shuttle about to clear the small markets.

So, even today Sinclair is in a power position and can squeeze the syndicator hard on terms. But it really doesn’t have much say in what shows get produced. That call is made by the syndicator in collaboration with the make-or-break launch groups, Fox and Tribune.

But when Sinclair melds with Tribune, it surpasses Fox and becomes, I believe, the first stop on the tier-two circuit because of its longer reach. It can deliver a show to at least two-thirds of the nation’s TV homes all by itself. The syndicator can still opt for the Fox-and-whomever route to 100% clearance, but it will be a long, hard slog through the provinces.

Sinclair will have even more muscle in negotiating terms. In fact, it will be in a position to demand equity in the shows it agrees to carry. Why not? It’s what the broadcast networks do when they are assembling their primetime schedules.

What’s more, Sinclair will have a much louder voice on what shows get made and offered in the tier-two market. No sense moving ahead with a show if your most important customer — Sinclair programming chief Arthur Hasson — thinks it’s a dud.

When Sinclair gave Hasson his corporate stripes in 2014, it was with the intention that he would develop original programming for the group. With Tribune, Sinclair can follow through on that ambition.

Last month, Fox announced that it will be testing seven tier-two shows this summer. Some are homegrown; some are from outside producers.

Next summer, I expect to see more summer tests and I’m betting there will be as many on the Sinclair stations as there will be on Fox’s.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or here. You can read earlier columns here.

Comments (13)

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Ricardo Celis says:

June 2, 2017 at 3:39 pm

Maybe this will be Byron Allen’s big chance to break out. Sinclair as their partner.

    Keith ONeal says:

    June 3, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    There has yet to be any show with Byron Allen’s name on it that is worth viewing.

Dan Levitt says:

June 2, 2017 at 4:08 pm

“when it goes through”? how about “IF”? Several problems with that theory. Of course, Tribune scaling back it’s own Productions which proved too costly, but the fact that Nobody watches TV anymore and/or severe drop in viewership and viewership to come. Tribune selling everything but the kitchen sink to stay afloat as it is. The Tribune audience seems to be 180 degrees of what the Sinclair audience is. Again, this sees to be a Paid PR propaganda article to send to Advertising clients on the mailing lists.

    Keith ONeal says:

    June 3, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    ‘Cops” is the ONLY show worth watching on WGN America. Period.

    Debra Rein says:

    June 5, 2017 at 9:29 am

    Um, excuse me? What about In the Heat of the Night. No better program ever.

    John Bagwell says:

    June 7, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    @mrfixit….maybe IF should be used until it is official, but the deal will more than likely happen. Tribune wasn’t selling everything to stay afloat. They were doing it to get rid of their non-core assets and be in a more streamlined position to be sold. Their stations were profitable just like the other station groups, but the rest of their company wasn’t — especially WGN America, which was where they were scaling back productions. Lastly, do you think that all Tribune stations have the same audience as WPIX in New York? I hate to break the news to you but they own stations in 30+ markets of all different affiliates. Do you think the person watching their NBC station in Des Moines is the same as their station in New York?

Snead Hearn says:

June 3, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Content watched in front of a tv screen or on a tablet is still marketable.The tier-two shows sounds like a perfect fit for what Sinclair is looking to do…. Today is all about change and like them or not it appears Sinclair is built for change.

Keith ONeal says:

June 3, 2017 at 2:46 pm

I believe that Sinclair wants to be a Broadcast Network and is taking steps toward that goal.

Dan Levitt says:

June 3, 2017 at 11:17 pm

“Content watched in front of a TV screen is still marketable” doesn’t help if you are the one PAYING FOR the content broadcast from 200 Brick and Mortar (literally) TV Facilities – it only helps the one CREATING the content, which isn’t Sinclair. Hulu, Youtube, Facebook etc. can create content from one Facility and send it to a billion viewers- why in god’s name would anybody want to hold onto 200 Buildings when they only need one? This is the future – AND the present. Jeez, if the Networks Wanted 200 Buildings each – they would be outbidding Sinclair right now, they just know it’s NOT the future AND a foolish thing to do – which is why the Network O&O’s are 20 stations at best – NOT 40 or 160.

Nate Mann says:

June 4, 2017 at 5:55 pm

At least we can agree Sinclair is second tier. But yet another week with Harry working to curry favor with Sinclair – despite the grave threat it faces to our business.

Tim Darnell says:

June 5, 2017 at 1:33 pm

I think Harry is spot on. The influence Sinclair will have with syndicators will be extraordinary. If you think broadcast TV is dying, then none of this matters to you perhaps. However, to those of us who believe broadcast TV will evolve and persevere, this is important analysis. Us small market guys are feeling more powerless each passing year, but we will evolve and persevere as well.

Marilyn Hyder says:

June 6, 2017 at 8:57 am

If Mosko is talking to them, this is why.

John Livingston says:

June 6, 2017 at 11:31 pm

Sinclair is going to be a major player knew that when merger talk began with Tribune that they would be a force in syndie market. I doubt none of the test runs if Sinclair does them will be in the West Michigan market other than CW7 if they do but I doubt it.

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