Bill Butler: Sinclair’s Programming Pro

Reaching nearly 39% of U.S. TV homes and operating two — or even three — stations in many of its 77 markets, Sinclair is a force in the syndication programming marketplace. Its size gives the station group considerable clout in negotiating license fees for off-network and premium first-run shows.

The executive who wields that clout is Bill Butler, vice president of programming and promotion, a career broadcaster who has been with Sinclair since 1997. But he says he uses that clout sparingly, knowing that squeezing too hard can be self-defeating. “You don’t get Ellen or Dr. Phil or Steve Harvey by nickel nursing. We would characterize what we paid for those as market prices.”

In fact, Butler says he wishes he had more influence in how syndicators handle their shows. They are sometimes too quick to cancel a program that could be fixed with a change in host or format, he says.

Butler would advise more patience. “I like to say that I fly a desk in the Air Force — I don’t make shows and I don’t know what goes into making shows. There’s a certain magic that happens in most shows, but it takes time to find that magic and we can’t expect every show to be magic at premier date.”

Is Sinclair ready to follow the lead of Scripps, Cox Media and Raycom Media and begin developing its own shows? “You would have to speak to Mr. Smith [CEO David] about those things,” he says.

This story originally appeared in TVNewsCheck’s Executive Outlook, a quarterly print publication devoted to the future of broadcasting. Subscribe here.


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