Sinclair Capitalizes On Its Synergies

For Rob Weisbord, COO and president of broadcast of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the company’s hydra-like assets across linear TV, cable, streaming and digital work in concert by design for ad sales and, shortly down the road, programming. “We have to be prepared to be able to get the entire universe of people consuming audio and video,” he says.

It can be hard to keep track of just how many business lines Sinclair Broadcast Group has branched into.

Between its local television stations; regional sports networks; The Tennis Channel; OTT plays including STIRR, NewsON and Stadium; diginets and digital businesses like Compulse, not to mention its aggressive role in NextGen TV deployment, the company leveraged itself aggressively across the media spectrum.

Rob Weisbord, COO and president of broadcast for Sinclair, says synergies abound across these diverse endeavors, first on the ad sales side and soon to be more visible on the programming front as well.

In an interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp, Weisbord traces some of those synergies out, weighing in on a constricting syndication market that will see local, regional and national content creation across the group become ever more important.

He speaks to the importance of spinning up “next-gen” content for younger audiences, and where local stations will be a testing ground for its incubation.

And he considers the future of using national rep firms where groups like Tegna and Gray Television have cut them loose.


An edited transcript.

Sinclair is moving in a lot of different directions at once. You have the local stations; RSNs; the national networks on cable; streaming; multicast; Compulse, which represents your OTT services and also sells digital marketing services; and NewsON, the OTT news aggregation app. Where are the synergies happening? Let’s start with the RSNs and the local stations. Is advertising on those two divisions packaged and sold together?                  

We have the Sinclair Sports Group and we have over 15 billion impressions in sports alone. That group is out there focused on capturing the digital aspect for the regional sports networks, but also for linear and digital for The Tennis Channel as well as broadcast and the RSNs. We also have Stadium, our digital sports app. So, the Sinclair Sports Group really has national scope, but local activation, too, and that is how we look at it when we go to marketplaces.

Are there synergies also in the programming of the RSNs and the stations, or is that coming in the future?

That is coming in the future. With syndicators not creating a lot of content, it is incumbent on us to be able to create our own.

Sinclair has Tennis Channel and Stadium, plus a collection of multicast networks and another collection of streaming services in STIRR. Do you sell advertising on all these together from a single sales team?

Yes. That is where we get the synergies. There are more and more dollars shifting to live sports, so we will be able to go across our platform and capture that. The dollars obviously are shifting to CTV/OTT, where we have many assets.

STIRR is your collection of OTT channels. Do you think of it as a network?

We think of it as more of a streaming service that has FAST channels on it more than SVOD. There is a big world for FAST channels. but the one thing that is always missing is local, and we feel that that is what STIRR provides. Even today with shifting habits, all the research [shows] that people are still concerned with their local communities and what is happening inside [them]. That is the differentiation point for STIRR.

Is STIRR’s advertising more direct sold or programmatic?

It is a combination.

What kind of advertisers are buying into it?

You are seeing mainstream advertisers buying into it depending upon what that content is, and it is also sold in conjunction with NewsON. The largest appetite is for news, and we will see an even bigger appetite as political starts to heat up and they are trying [for] a broad reach through all instruments delivering video and audio.

On the local side, does it follow the percentages of your spot categories?

It does. It follows more what the news advertisers are. You will see services to attorneys that don’t want to miss out with shifting [viewer] habits. The greatest thing is because we are free over the air, we are able to have that transference and shift that local news to the STIRR platform or NewsON platform.

Do you tend to bundle STIRR with linear? Or is it ever sold exclusively as streaming?

It is sold exclusively as streaming. There is a whole digital team out there selling, but it is also part of a bundle as well. It is kind of the bowtie effect. You get traditional linear and the shifting habits for those that have cut the cord or never had the cord. We have to be prepared to be able to get the entire universe of people consuming audio and video.

Programming-wise what is the next step for STIRR? More STIRR City iterations or custom national OTT programming?

I think it will be more iterations on STIRR City, and we will look to tighten up certain partnerships and grow it that way.

Is your goal for the STIRR Cities to cover as many DMAs as possible?


The National Desk has been quietly expanding with more programming hours and a bigger digital presence. What are your ambitions for it? 

As we refine and get the content stronger, you will see us continuing [adding] more and more hours. The goal will be to blend some of the National Desk with some of our sports content along with syndication. The National Desk has come out of the box. It has been just above our expectations, and the quality is superb.

Do you see it potentially having a NewsNation-level ambition?

It could potentially have syndication opportunities for those looking for that type of content. I don’t know if we will go down the path. I think we will stick to our strengths, which is having our local broadcast stations.

You have wanted to create a unified sales platform for years and now you are working with Operative to do that. Where are you in that right now and what is your objective with it?

We are in the build stage. The 1.0 version will be launched before the fourth quarter. Operative seems to understand where the puck is going. We have the warehouse [so] that in one setting we can give the buying community a glance at what the additional reach and frequency is, what those opportunities are and not make it a difficult buying cycle for the buyers. We are super excited about taking this unified ad platform and going to market with it.

Tegna and Gray have both dropped their national reps. Do you anticipate dropping your rep firms at some point or do you see that relationship as an important one for the coming decade and beyond?

In the short term, absolutely. We are sticking with the rep firm. I don’t know if it is accretive in the short term to try to start our own. We have very good relationships with Katz and Cox, and they have long-term relationships at the holding companies, so I am looking to go forward. We obviously have ongoing conversations on how to get them to become more agile.

In some local markets there are as many NextGen sets being watched as there are Nielsen meters. How are you packaging the data from those viewers? Are you sharing it with ad agencies either as a way of previewing it for them or in actual negotiations on campaigns?

There are a lot of conversations about attribution, and so we have partnered on many avails with TVSquared. They have done a really good job, and the local broadcasting industry needs to unite on what a NextGen measurement system looks like, whether it is the incumbent Nielsen or companies like TVSquared. You saw NBC announced they are going with iSpot, and NBC is focused on their networks. The broadcasters that remain need to be focused on local. There is a plethora of not only quantitative, but qualitative data that I think is incumbent to lay over because as we move through an impression business, not every impression is the same. You have to overlay data on top of just the numbers [themselves].

How is NextGen shaping how you talk to advertisers now?

We are still probably five years down the pipeline from that. Buying cycles for television sets are a seven-year cycle. We are probably in year two of ATSC 3.0 sets hitting the marketplace and so to reach enough saturation in the marketplace is still about five years down the road.

Sinclair has long been a pivotal player in the syndication market. Do you expect that market to continually or gradually shrink? Do you anticipate replacing that programming mostly with local news and talk?

It is an unfortunate situation because we are a big supporter of the syndicators. When they launch something, we try to support it, but there’s less and less launches going on. As a large broadcaster, we need to protect our own business.

I don’t necessarily believe more is better as far as news. It is how you do it. It is not even so-called news — it is next-gen content. We are solving for past the boomers. How do [younger] people really want to receive that content?

We just entered a [joint venture] with Anthony Ziker. Anthony gets to look at all the B-roll that doesn’t make it onto the air to look at what are we missing. [With] Tiger King, which went on to be a big successful docu-type series on Netflix, we broke the story with our Oklahoma station, but because we delivered it in a two-and-a-half-minute package, we didn’t recognize what else it could have been. A Hollywood visionary will be able to look at it in a different lens than we look at it.

Some of the O&Os have R&D labs for programming. Is there anything underway at Sinclair to help develop new kinds of programming?

We have a content lab that is always working on next-gen, and then we have our employees in the newsroom always iterating what is interesting. We are always trying to evolve how we create content, and we will use a series of our stations as lab testing and let the next gen own it.

I believe you have to mentor and curate talent and by allowing them to see their product go live it builds the culture of our company. It shows the importance of listening to they believe is interesting content.

Is STIRR also a potential testing ground?  

A hundred percent. STIRR is there. Our RSNs are there as well. We think that is a way to seed it in the beginning and as we iterate move it to our broadcast stations as well.  So, we have several channels right now to iterate on to evolve our business.

In five years, where do you see the revenue pie being divvied up for local stations? What percentage of your revenue will come from retransmission consent fees, advertising, OTT or NextGen subscription fees and NextGen data broadcasting revenue?

I wish I had that crystal ball. There are a lot of things that will happen and hopefully that will come to fruition. I believe that eventually the X/Y curves will hit, and cord cutting will start to stabilize. Streaming is there, but I think FAST is better than subscription. It is very tough to all of a sudden get a price hike like we saw what happened with Netflix and then password sharing. It gets very complicated. How many subscriptions does somebody want to manage? There is a lot of churn. To me, free, over-the-air still will remain strong.

What about how audiences will break down five years from now on linear versus streaming, percentagewise?

Potentially it could be a 50/50 split. I don’t care where it comes from as long as they are coming to us. We built all our assets so they could come to linear or streaming. For sports, latency has to be fixed for it to be really on par with linear. The Super Bowl was a minute [behind on streaming], and who wants a push notification that a touchdown is coming up?

I am bullish on linear, on the traditional MVPD situation. When the price points from the streaming services reach a certain level, [they] will push people back to the bundle.

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Joe Bottoms!! says:

April 14, 2022 at 6:54 am