A coalition of TV and media industry entities is urging the FCC to reject Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, arguing that the combination would “produce a TV station behemoth that is unprecedented in both local and national size and power.”
A loose coalition of affected trade groups and companies announced today in a conference call that they will vigorously oppose Sinclair Broadcast Group’s proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media at the FCC, charging that it violates ownership limits, harms competition and generally disserves the public.
The deal “would produce a TV station behemoth that is unprecedented in both local and national size and power,” said ACA President Matt Polka.
The coalition comprises the American Cable Association, One America News Network, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Competitive Carriers Association (small wireless operations), Common Cause and Dish Network.
Petitions to deny are due today, but as of 3:50 p.m. ET when this article was posted none had appeared on the FCC website.
In the case of the ACA, One America Network and Dish, the announcement came as no surprise. They voiced opposition to the deal earlier in asking the FCC to postpone the deadline for the petitions to deny.
“We believe this merger as proposed is unlawful, not in the public interest and should be rejected,” it said.“Quickly frankly, imposing any behavioral conditions are insufficient to address these rules violations and the harms.”
Polka said the deal would give Sinclair more than 200 stations and coverage of 72% of TV homes, a greater reach than is currently allowed by law.
He also pointed out that Sinclair would violate the FCC local ownership limits in 10 markets. “The applicants have sought no waiver of these rule.”
Speaking for Common Cause, former Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said the merger marks a “particularly sad chapter in the decades-long dark story of the evisceration of TV journalism, of local community news and … the ascendancy of media giants who have and are inflicting irreparable damage on our democracy.”
TV news suffers so that the “media behemoths can finance these ridiculous transactions,” he said.
Copps called Sinclair “the most dangerous company that most Americans have never heard of.”
They want to “bust through” the national ownership limits after years of skirting them through “joint evasion agreements.” He added: “To make matters worse, Sinclair comes with an ideology that is far more focused on conservative points of view than on any sense of balance or deep-dive journalism.”
Polka was principally concerned with the impact on retransmission consent negotiations.
“Sinclair-Tribune could use it market power to extract higher retransmission consent fees from cable operators,” he said.
The power will come, in part, “from the fact that Sinclair will own two top-four affiliate stations in 10 markets where they will be able to charge higher fees than could be charged if the stations were separately owned.”
(In its merger application, Sinclair and Tribune said they would divest stations in 10 markets if the FCC says that it must.)
Charles Herrring, president of America One News Network, argued that Sinclair already has excessive market power that it uses to wrest excessive retransmission consent fees from the MVPDs.
“This raises prices for consumers and, more importantly, it consumes programming budgets preventing independent sources of programming from being able to complete deals [including fees] with the major MVPDs.”
He also alleged that Sinclair has abused its leverage with the MVPDs to force them to carry its Tennis Channel “at a market rate that was much higher than fair-market value.”
The “forced” carriage also take up channel capacity that might have been used for independent cable networks, he said.
Tim Donovan, SVP, legislative affairs, Competitive Carriers Association, complained that Sinclair is dragging its feet in the repacking of the TV band and seeking more time from the FCC to complete the migration of their stations, some 200 of them.
Any delay in the repack will impose hardship on CCA members who bought broadcast spectrum in the FCC incentive auction, but cannot put it to work until the repack is completed, he said.
“Unfortunately, these harms are not theoretical,” he said. “Sinclair has advocated to obstruct the repack process at every procedural step to date.”