ACA Asks FCC to Deny or Limit Sinclair Purchase of New Age Media Stations

Washington— The American Cable Association has petitioned the FCC to either deny or put conditions on Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $90 million purchase of eight New Age Media TV stations. The ACA fears that the deal will give Sinclair effective control of two of the Big 4 network affiliates in Tallahassee and Gainesville; both of Florida. Such de facto control would give Sinclair extra clout when negotiating retransmission fees with cable TV companies.

The background: In order to conform to FCC local television ownership rules, Sinclair is selling “the license and certain related assets of ... WTLH [Fox] in Tallahassee, FL and WNBW [NBC] in Gainesville, FL to Cunningham Broadcasting Corporation,” said a Sinclair news release dated September 25, 2013. This will leave Sinclair directly owning/operating WTWC (NBC) in Tallahassee and WGFL (CBS) in Gainesville.

“Sinclair acknowledges that the Commission’s rules would not permit it to acquire all of these stations directly,” says the ACA’s filing to the FCC. “Instead it proposes to use Cunningham, one of its well-known ‘sidecar’ companies with which it has close and established ties, as well as explicit coordination agreements, to establish its ‘virtual duopolies’ in these markets. While Cunningham would nominally own these stations, Sinclair would retain many key station functions – including the ability to act as the stations’ ‘agent’ in retransmission consent negotiations.”

In response to such criticisms – most recently from the media watchdog Free Press in the Baltimore Sun – Sinclair President and CEO David Smith has countered, “every transaction we have entered into completely complies with the law and the regulations of the FCC and where required, as was true in most cases, were approved by the FCC after full disclosure of each aspect of our transactions.”

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.