Rural Rundown: How Sinclair Guts Newsrooms and Rips Off Consumers in Rural America

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s history of producing politically charged, agenda-driven content is well documented. And while its partisan slant is a threat to local news in markets across the country, what is especially striking is the company’s lack of commitment to consumers in rural America.

With rural consumers dependent on a limited number of telecom providers in their communities, Sinclair has made a sport out of holding these customers hostage to higher rates and blackouts as it demands ever increasing prices from the cable and satellite television companies that serve these communities.

To make matters worse, the company also attempts to pad its bottom line by slashing local employee salaries and eliminating newsrooms in rural communities – at times even putting these communities at risk in the event of a local emergency.

As this report details, Sinclair’s record in rural communities is one of hostile neglect and apparent contempt for America’s heartland. Allowing the Sinclair-Tribune merger to proceed would compound these issues by increasing the company’s reach into additional rural media markets throughout the country.


The Sinclair Merger is Bad for Rural America

Sinclair’s CEO told shareholders in 2017 that he was “quite excited” about relaxed local media ownership rules and that he saw there are “significant savings to be had” by consolidating local news.

On a call with shareholders in August 2017, Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley was asked about opportunities stemming from relaxed local media ownership rules:

“Aaron L. Watts – Deutsche Bank Securities, Inc.: Understood. Okay. And one last one, maybe for you, Chris. Just to the extent local media ownership rules are relaxed, how should we think about the opportunity set for you to enhance your footprint with in-market flops and purchases? Thanks.”

“Christopher S. Ripley – Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.: Well, we’re quite excited about that. Overall, we think the industry needs to consolidate to two or three large broadcasters, and really just one to two strong local players in each market. And right now, in some of the larger and even medium-size markets, you’ve got anywhere from three to five local players, and to us, it doesn’t make sense. And so, if there’s relaxation, there’ll be a consolidation at the local level, there’ll be greater scale at the national level. And there’s significant savings to be had putting local content players together on a local level. We’re talking anywhere from 20% to 50% of the expense load that can be synergized and made more efficient. And then you’ve got – and after that, you’ve got stronger local content producers which will be able to spread their content and their resources across multiple platforms. So we see that as an evolution of the industry as dereg sets in here and you end up with more consolidated, stronger local content players that are more efficient. And so the economics will be great, and the strategic output will also be great for the industry. Did we lose you, Aaron? Okay.” [“Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBGI) Q2 2017 Results – Earnings Call Transcript“, Seeking Alpha, 08/02/17]

The Competitive Carriers Association said the Sinclair-Tribune merger should be denied and that the merger would allow Sinclair to impede repacking, on which rural Americans rely.

“‘The very fact that there is such strong opposition to the Tribune/Sinclair transaction should send a clear signal to the FCC and the Department of Justice that this transaction should be denied,’ said Steven K. Berry, President & CEO of Competitive Carriers Association. ‘If approved, the transaction would result in the largest aggregation of television broadcast holdings in the industry and would allow Sinclair to significantly impede the post-incentive auction repack by denying its rivals of critical inputs necessary to relocate in a timely manner.  Rural Americans deserve the latest mobile broadband services, which will ride on the 600 MHz spectrum that competitive carriers spent significant resources acquiring in the auction, and depend on a timely repack to put this spectrum to use to realize the benefits of the mobile economy.  CCA is glad to be a part of this coalition and looks forward to our collaborative efforts to ensure the transaction is denied.’” [NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, Press Release, 08/15/17]

The American Cable Association, which represents 750 rural TV providers, argues the Sinclair-Tribune merger is “unlawful, not in the public interest and should be rejected.”

The CEO of the American Cable Association, which “represents about 750 smaller telecom/broadband/pay-TV providers in small and rural areas,” said the proposed Sinclair-Tribune merger “‘is unlawful, not in the public interest and should be rejected.'” [Mike Snider, “Two big reasons Sinclair-Tribune TV merger should be nixed, opponents say,” USA Today, 08/07/17]

Sinclair’s History of Holding Rural Viewers Hostage

The Rural Broadband Association stated that as a result of the Sinclair-Tribune merger, rural consumers are more likely to face higher prices and blackouts.

According to their Petition to Deny, NTCA- The Rural Broadband Association wrote, “The consequences to consumers of the proposed merger would likely be all too familiar. First, consumers are most likely to face a combination of higher prices and/or reduced investment in broadband infrastructure by small MVPDs that will inevitably be forced to absorb and/or pass along increased retransmission consent fees. Secondly, consumers will also be more likely to experience blackouts, which have occurred with alarming frequency. There were 142 instances of blackouts in the first quarter of this year alone, as broadcasters increasingly leverage retransmission rules that enable them to operate without the need to respond to market forces.

“These ramifications are especially concerning to rural consumers, many of whom rely on MVPDs to obtain access to any television broadcast signals at all, since the transition to digital television reduced the effective range of many over-the-air broadcast stations. Nearly one-fourth of NTCA’s members report that 90 percent or more of the customers in their service areas cannot receive any over-the-air broadcast signals, and must rely upon MVPD services in order to receive local news, weather reports, and similar benefits of local broadcasts. Put another way, small rural MVPDs pay (and keep paying more and more) for the ‘privilege’ of carrying content that Sinclair or Tribune otherwise could not deliver to consumers in rural America. These consumers are thus at the complete mercy of broadcasters who are able to raise rates or punitively remove MVPDs’ access to signals, even though the consumers cannot access the signals otherwise without the MVPD’s network in many rural areas. Clearly, these circumstances contravene the public interest, convenience and necessity.” [NTCA- Rural Broadband Association Petition to Deny, 08/07/17]

“‘Since the digital television transition reduced the effective range of broadcast stations years ago, many rural consumers can no longer obtain broadcast content over the air,’ said Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. ‘Rural America – and the broadcasters themselves – therefore rely more than ever on small cable and telecommunications companies to ensure consumers can watch local television. While the proposed merger offers a vague promise of “greater value” to small video providers, real-world experience shows that larger broadcast conglomerates in general, and Sinclair in particular, charge small companies higher prices for the “privilege” of delivering signals to consumers on behalf of the broadcasters. This translates to higher prices for rural consumers and undermines the ability of small providers to deploy and sustain advanced communications networks in rural areas.’” [NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, Press Release, 08/15/17]

Mediacom Communications filed an antitrust lawsuit against Sinclair in 2006 for “holding [its] customers hostage” after Sinclair demanded one bundled payment from Mediacom for carrying the signals of stations in more than a dozen markets.

“Cable company Mediacom Communications Corp. said Friday it filed an antitrust lawsuit against television-station operator Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. in federal court in Iowa. The lawsuit claims Sinclair is violating the law by asking Mediacom for one bundled payment for carrying the signals of stations in more than a dozen markets, in order for it to carry stations in markets such as Des Moines, Iowa and Mobile, Ala. ‘Throughout our retransmission consent negotiations, Sinclair has insisted that all of its stations in our footprint be bundled in a single package without consideration to the differences in the markets of the various stations. We believe this all-or-nothing scheme violates antitrust law,’ Mediacom Chairman and Chief Executive Rocco B. Commisso said in a statement. ‘We believe that Sinclair is holding our customers hostage in the Des Moines market in exchange for carriage of other stations in markets half a continent away,’ he added.” [“Mediacom files lawsuit against Sinclair,” The Associated Press, 10/06/06]

Mediacom Communications issued a press release saying “the lawsuit [alleged] that Sinclair violated the Sherman Antitrust Act by conditioning its consent to carriage of its stations in certain markets, such as Des Moines, IA or Mobile, AL, upon Mediacom’s payment for carriage of Sinclair’s stations in more than a dozen other markets. The ultimate result of this ‘tying’ of Sinclair’s stations would be to increase the price of cable television to consumers by millions of dollars.” [“Mediacom Communications Files Antitrust Suit Against Sinclair Broadcasting Group,” Business Wire, 10/06/06]

“The cold war of words and threats came to a head” in January 2007 “when 22 Sinclair broadcast stations in 12 states were pulled from the Mediacom cable lineup after the contract that allowed Mediacom to re-transmit the stations’ signals expired. Among them: KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids, a CBS affiliate.” [M.D. Kittle, “TV war drags on; Mediacom hands out antennas and pleads for political support in dispute with Sinclair,” The Telegraph Herald, 01/09/07]

Mediacom pointed out to the FCC “that the harm to the public of the continuing service interruption,” which included “2 million viewers in 700,000 households in small communities across America” was “significant and Sinclair would not be hurt since Mediacom is willing to pay for interim carriage.” [“Mediacom CEO Calls on the U.S. Congress to Hold Hearings on Retransmission Consent Abuses and Sinclair Matter,” Business Wire, 01/13/07]

In 2007, “the Joint Government Oversight Committee of the Iowa General Assembly […] scheduled a hearing for Thursday, January 18th to review the issues in the retransmission consent dispute between Mediacom Communications Corporation […] and Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc.” “Iowans across the state have been unnecessarily inconvenienced by the discriminatory actions of Sinclair,” wrote the Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association in a statement. On January 17th, “the entire Iowa Congressional Delegation wrote the CEOs of both companies urging them to agree to binding arbitration and to find a way to resume carriage of the Sinclair stations. Mediacom gladly agreed to the Delegation’s request. Sinclair declined to enter into binding arbitration and refused to authorize Mediacom to resume carriage of the stations while the negotiations continue.” [Thomas P. Graves, “Iowa General Assembly Schedules Hearing on Discriminatory Practices of Sinclair Broadcast Group,” Business Wire, 01/12/07]

The companies “reached a one-year contract agreement” in January 2010. Mediacom, however, was “required to drop its formal complaint to the Federal Communications Commission about Sinclair’s negotiating tactics.” [“Week in review: 2 suspects in custody in armed burglary case,” The Telegraph Herald, 01/10/10]

Sinclair stations in a dozen states were pulled from Mediacom’s cable lineup for several weeks because Sinclair demanded more money from Mediacom for programming retransmission.

“In January 2007, Fox 43 and 21 other Sinclair stations in a dozen states were pulled from Mediacom’s cable lineup for several weeks. Sinclair wanted more money from Mediacom for the right to retransmit its programming. Mediacom says a deal was reached when it ‘agreed to pay an exorbitant amount to Sinclair to continue providing WYZZ [Fox 43 in Illinois] to our customers.’ Other terms were not disclosed.” [Ryan Denham, “Fox 43 in jeopardy for some Mediacom, station owner in price tiff,” The Pantagraph, 12/29/09]

“The impacted stations are: Des Moines/Ames (KDSM-FOX), Cedar Rapids (KGAN-CBS), Mobile-Pensacola (WEAR-ABC/WFGX-MNT), Peoria/Bloomington (WYZZ-FOX), Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville (WLOS-ABC/WMYA-MNT), Lexington (WDKY-FOX), Madison (WMSN-FOX), Nashville (WZTV-FOX/ WUXP-MNT/WNAB-CW), Minneapolis (WUCW- CW), Paducah/Cape Girardeau (KBSI-FOX/WDKA-MNT), Springfield/Champaign/Decatur (WICS-ABC/WICD-ABC), St. Louis (KDNL-ABC), Tallahassee (WTWC-NBC), Birmingham (WTTO-CW/WABM-MNT), Norfolk (WTVZ-MNT) and Milwaukee (WCGV-MNT /WVTV-CW).” [Sinclair Broadcast Group, Press Release, 01/16/07]

In an interview “with TV Newsday, Sinclair CEO David Smith denied his company was taking an aggressive position with Mediacom. ‘I see it as nothing more than if I have content and you’d like to package it and resell it to your consumers so that you can make a buck off it, why can’t I share in that?’ he said.” [Steve Tarter, “Mediacom-Sinclair stalemate continues – Cable company plans Bears events at bars,” The Peoria Journal Star, 01/11/07]

The Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association criticized Sinclair for not negotiating in good faith to keep its Iowa cable systems at reasonable prices, saying “it is obvious that Sinclair’s unilateral actions have discriminated against Iowans.”

“Following is a statement from Thomas P. Graves, the Executive Vice President of the Iowa Cable & Telecommunications Association: Iowans have been greatly inconvenienced and are outraged by the actions of Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:SBGI). Sinclair pulled the plug on the Fox affiliate in Des Moines and the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids. It is clear to me that Sinclair did not intend to negotiate in good faith to keep its channels on the Mediacom Communications Corporation (NASDAQ:MCCC) cable systems in Iowa at reasonable prices, even though Mediacom has offered binding arbitration and numerous market-driven, non-discriminatory financial alternatives. It is obvious that Sinclair’s unilateral actions have discriminated against Iowans. Sinclair has also refused the FCC’s strong recommendations to continue carriage and agree to binding arbitration, and ignored similar urgings by Iowa’s Senators Grassley and Harkin and Congressmen Boswell, King and Latham. As a result of Sinclair’s discriminatory practices, this office is imploring Iowa legislators to take immediate action. We are asking that the Iowa General Assembly hold hearings to investigate the outrageous tactics of Sinclair, and to determine how Iowa consumers have suffered because of them. Furthermore, we are asking Iowa’s General Assembly to deliver to Gov.-elect Culver appropriate legislation to prevent any programmer — whether it be a broadcaster or a cable network — from discriminating against Iowans.” [Thomas P. Graves, “Legislation Needed to Protect Iowans from the Discriminatory Practices of Sinclair Broadcast Group,” Business Wire, 01/08/07]

After Sinclair pulled its broadcast from Mediacom’s cable lineup over a financial dispute, Mediacom spent “significant costs in equipment and overtime” out of its own company coffers to give customers rabbit ear-style antennae so that they could continue viewing TV programming.

“Cable operator Mediacom Communications Corp. said it handed out more than 4,000 antenna kits to Des Moines area and Waterloo area subscribers who wanted to view channels dropped because of the dispute with Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. On Sunday, Mediacom said it had run out of antenna kits. The Des Moines office handed out 4,000 antenna kits. The Mediacom office in Waterloo went through a couple hundred antenna kits before running out on Sunday, said Phyllis Peters, Mediacom spokeswoman. More are expected to be available on Tuesday, the company said. Twenty-two Sinclair broadcast stations in 12 states were pulled from the Mediacom cable lineup at 12:01 a.m. Saturday after the contract expired that allowed Mediacom to retransmit the stations’ signals. Among them: KGAN-TV in Cedar Rapids, a CBS affiliate, and KDSM in Des Moines, a Fox network affiliate. Peters said that for most areas of Waterloo, except for the southern and southeastern most parts, it would be difficult or impossible to get the KGAN signal with rabbit ear-style antennae, like Mediacom is distributing. Peters said about 6,000 antennas have been given to customers since Dec. 30. She said the company had to absorb significant costs in equipment and overtime to give customers the antennas. ‘We’re making this equipment free to our customers. What is Sinclair doing to serve people?’ Peters said. ‘It’s in the public’s interest. We need to serve our customers.’

In Cedar Rapids, Mediacom workers handed out more than 1,000 antennas.” [Jeff Wilford, “Mediacom customers seek antenna kits to view dropped channels,” Waterloo Courier, 01/08/07]

During the blackout that resulted from Sinclair’s financial dispute with Mediacom, Iowa Hawkeyes fans became irate because they could not view Iowa sports games.

Hawkeyes fans in Dubuque, Iowa, were “irate about finding the drama ‘Friday Night Lights’ on TV instead of the Hawks,” during the “Iowa men’s basketball game against Penn State” in January 2007. The problem occurred because of the station blackouts caused by the Sinclair-Mediacom dispute.

“‘The people I talked to (Thursday [the day after the Wednesday night game]) were seriously considering getting their service from another provider to watch these games,’ said [Craig] Nowack, coordinator of Dubuque’s cable franchise. ‘That’s how important it is to some people.’” [M.D. Kittle, “Hawkeyes fans crying foul; Mediacom cable subscribers miss game on TV thanks to fight with Sinclair,” Telegraph Herald, 01/26/07]

Some customers paid out of pocket for rabbit-ear antennae during the Sinclair-orchestrated blackout, leading David Sanders of Rantoul to note, “‘It’s not right for cable customers to become victims of a corporate war.’”

In 2007, while Sinclair and Mediacom were in a dispute “over how much the cable company should pay its television stations for the right to carry their programming,” rural consumers in Illinois were affected when Mediacom “replaced ABC programming” on stations owned by Sinclair, which “had demanded that the ABC affiliates be removed from the cable system.”

“‘It’s not fair that Tolono can’t get those ABC shows while the folks in Champaign can get them, simply because they have a different cable company,’” said Steve Woodcock of Tolono, IL, after his “cable provider, Mediacom, had replaced ABC programming from two local affiliates, WICD and WICS, with Starz Kids and Family.”

“Linda Jones of Monticello” went to “Best Buy in Champaign […] to purchase some rabbit ears so she [could] receive WICD signals over the air. ‘I don’t want to miss my “General Hospital,”’ she said.”

“Sinclair Broadcast Group General Counsel Barry Faber said two parties were unable to agree on the price for allowing the cable system to carry signals from Sinclair’s stations. Faber said that the Sinclair stations can still be picked up by antenna or with a satellite dish. ‘We do not think it’s such a big issue since there are other places to get our channels,’ Faber said.”

“David Sanders of Rantoul said he is going to miss some of his favorite ABC shows. ‘I’ve been watching “Lost,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty” every week,’ Sanders said. ‘It’s not right for cable customers to become victims of a corporate war.’” [Tim Mitchell, “Mediacom-Sinclair dispute: Rural TV viewers lost without their ABC,” The News-Gazette, 01/09/07]

Mediacom served “small towns and unincorporated areas surrounding Bloomington-Normal, Peoria and much of Central Illinois.” [Ryan Denham, “Fox 43 in jeopardy for some Mediacom, station owner in price tiff,” The Pantagraph, 12/29/09]

Mediacom customers in Western North Carolina feared Sinclair-owned WLOS, the area’s ABC affiliate and only station in the market based in Western NC, would be removed from local cable offerings. Local government officials urged Sinclair and Mediacom to reach an agreement, saying the loss of WLOS “could compromise public safety” in the event of a local emergency.

“With the deadline just hours away, no agreement has been reached regarding Mediacom’s right to continue carrying WLOS-TV on its cable system. If an agreement or extension is not reached by midnight tonight (Thursday) WLOS, this area’s ABC affiliate, will be removed from local cable offerings. Mediacom and Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of WLOS, have been in negotiations for months on a retransmission agreement regarding 22 Sinclair stations in 14 states. […] Sinclair is encouraging Mediacom subscribers to switch to DirecTV and is offering a partial rebate for those who do. That offer has been extended through Dec. 31. Sinclair officials have also stated on television and on its Web site that Mediacom customers can receive stations over the air. That’s not an option for most people in Jackson County. Very few local residents can receive the WLOS signal from its Mt. Pisgah transmitter. A translator that rebroadcast WLOS on channel 5 for more than 40 years went off the air last year when the owner of the property where the tower was located declined to renew the lease. Jackson County and Sylva officials have discussed the issue at recent meetings and urged both sides to negotiate in good faith and reach an agreement. WLOS is the only station in this television market based in Western North Carolina. Its news, sports and weather coverage are geared to WNC viewers, unlike stations based in South Carolina. Local officials have said the loss of WLOS from local cable TV could compromise public safety in the event of a weather or other type of emergency.” [Carey Phillips, “Mediacom, Sinclair deadline nears with no deal for WLOS,” The Sylva Herald & Ruralite, 11/30/06]

About 160,000 Time Warner Cable customers in rural Ohio feared they would lose two local stations because of an ongoing dispute between TWC and Sinclair. One local customer said he felt like he was “being held hostage” because of the companies’ dispute.

“About 160,000 Time Warner Cable customers, former Adelphia subscribers in small Ohio towns and rural communities, could lose the two stations because of an ongoing contract dispute between the cable company and Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair, based in Baltimore, Md., owns Columbus’ ABC affiliate WSYX-TV (Channel 6) and Fox affiliate WTTE-TV (Channel 28). […] The Jan. 8 championship game between the Buckeyes and the University of Florida Gators is being televised by Fox. But plenty of other popular programs, including American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, The Simpsons and Grey’s Anatomy, could go away as well. The dispute doesn’t affect most of Time Warner’s customers. Instead, it affects customers previously served by Adelphia, a cable company that declared bankruptcy in 2002. Some of Adelphia’s assets were acquired during the summer by Time Warner, of Stamford, Conn., which absorbed the Adelphia customers. Adelphia’s contract with Sinclair expires Sunday. The major issue between Time Warner and Sinclair is the amount of money the cable company will pay Sinclair directly or indirectly to air WSYX and WTTE. Time Warner and Sinclair each have tried to rally the public in its favor. The cable company sent affected customers notices that ABC and Fox might be dropped, while WSYX and WTTE ran notices at the bottom of the TV screen alerting viewers.

“But some cable subscribers think they’ve become pawns in the corporate battle. ‘We here in the hinterlands are unhappy with this,’ said Tom Edwards, of Coshocton. ‘Why are we being held hostage?’ Edwards, who co-owns a hardware store, said the cable dispute is the No. 1 topic among his customers, especially because the Bowl Championship Series title game is hanging in the balance. ‘How are we going to see our Buckeyes?’ he asked.” [Barnet D. Wolf, “Fears of missing big game fuel demand for satellite TV; Ex-Adelphia users take business elsewhere,” The Columbus Dispatch, 12/30/06]

“Thousands of devout Buckeye football fans don’t have to worry that they will miss Ohio State University’s trip to the national championship game. A payment dispute between Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcast Group threatened to black out the big game for Time Warner customers in rural central Ohio. Both sides said yesterday that they will keep talking, and Time Warner agreed to carry Sinclair’s stations until Jan. 12. That means those customers will be able to see the Buckeyes play the Florida Gators on Jan. 8 on the Sinclair-owned Columbus Fox affiliate, WTTE-TV (Channel 28).” [Spencer Hunt, “OSU game back on for ex-Adelphia cable users; Time Warner to air Sinclair’s TV stations until at least Jan. 12,” The Columbus Dispatch, 01/01/07]

Time Warner Cable and Sinclair Broadcast Group reached an agreement in January 2007. [Hanah Cho, “Sinclair deal is reported,” The Baltimore Sun, 01/20/17]

When Sinclair blacked out an Ohio cable affiliate near the holiday season in December 2013, the president of the American Cable Association called it “Grinch-like” and slammed Sinclair’s “indifference” to customers in its goal to extract higher fees from cable operators and the customers themselves.

In December 2013, “American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka issued the following statement regarding Sinclair Broadcast Group’s decision Sunday night to black out NBC affiliate WNWO, Channel 24, on Buckeye CableSystem in the Toledo, Ohio, area: ‘The indifference of broadcasters, like Sinclair, toward blacking out cable customers, especially so close to the holiday season, in order to extract higher fees from cable operators and their customers, is nothing short of Grinch-like.  In our view, broadcasters like Sinclair who would leave millions of consumers in the dark without notice are media malefactors who make a mockery of their legal obligation to serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.  You’re a mean one, Mr. Broadcaster.’” [American Cable Association, Press Release, 12/17/13]

Buckeye CableSystem filed a complaint against Sinclair with the FCC, asking “for immediate action to force the broadcaster to the bargaining table.” [John Eggerton, “Buckeye Amends FCC Complaint Against Sinclair,” Broadcast and Cable, 02/21/14]

Sinclair was responsible for the “largest TV blackout ever in the U.S.” – affecting 129 local stations across the country – when it failed to reach an agreement with Dish Network.

“Can’t watch your local news channel? It’s not your TV that’s broken. Negotiations between Dish Network and Sinclair Broadcast Group have broken down, resulting in the blackout of 129 local stations across the country. It’s the largest TV blackout ever in the U.S. The standoff prompted Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to order a meeting today with the two companies to resolve the dispute. […] Many of the blocked channels are local affiliates of major networks CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, meaning more than 5 million viewers lost access to local news, weather reports and sports, according to The Wall Street Journal.” [Laura Wagner, “FCC Hopes To Resolve Largest TV Blackout In U.S. History,” NPR, 08/26/15]

Dish and Sinclair had “been negotiating a contract that covers more than 150 local television stations owned or managed by Sinclair that reach more than five million customers in 79 markets. The signals were pulled from Dish after efforts to sign a new agreement or extend the existing one failed. […] Negotiations between Dish and Sinclair got ugly two weeks ago when the satellite broadcaster filed a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission that accused Sinclair of failing to negotiate in good faith on the retransmission contract. Furthermore, Dish said Sinclair was violating FCC rules by forcing Dish to negotiate with them for stations they don’t technically own. The two companies agreed to a short-term contract extension at the time.” [Joe Flint, “Sinclair Broadcast Pulls TV Signals From Dish Network,” The Wall Street Journal, 08/25/15]

“In August of 2015, just as the NFL pre-season was getting underway, Sinclair blacked out all of its local broadcast signals from DISH, pulling an unprecedented 129 stations in 79 markets. The blackout was so extensive that then-Chairman Tom Wheeler called an emergency meeting between the two companies, stating that the Commission would ‘not stand idly by while millions of consumers in 79 markets across the country are being denied access to local programming.’” [PETITION TO DISMISS OR DENY OF DISH NETWORK L.L.C., 08/07/17]

During the Sinclair blackout resulting from its dispute with Dish Network, three markets in Michigan were among those without service. One customer indicated the closest TV station was 75 miles away and unable to be received via antenna or rabbit ears. Another rural customer expressed frustration about “being held hostage.”

Dish Network customers in Michigan complained about the blackout of Sinclair stations, which affected “three markets in Michigan.”

“‘It never should have happened in the first place. Might be time to go back to the good old days with antennas,’” said Shirley Miller of Harrison on the Facebook page of UpNorthLive, operated by Sinclair Broadcasting in northern Michigan,” after service was restored.

Nancy Peterson said, “‘The closest TV station is 75 miles away, and I can’t receive any TV with antenna or rabbit ears.’”

“Viewer William Vose summed up the feeling for many: ‘We’re tired of the whole business here. We’re in a rural area on a fixed income and depend on our satellite service for local news through local channels,’ Vose said on UpNorthLive. ‘We feel like we’re being held hostage by both sides.’” [Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk, “Dish TV blackout ends, but not for all Michigan TV viewers,” MLive, 08/27/15]

In January 2017, Sinclair took its signal off Frontier Communications systems in rural areas in five states. It is reported that “Frontier’s relatively small size may [have] put it at a disadvantage when negotiating with Sinclair, which is the country’s largest operator of local TV stations.”

According to Dish Network’s petition to deny the Sinclair-Tribune merger, “In January of this year, Sinclair also took its signal off Frontier systems in Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Frontier tends to serve rural and small-town households, which meant that Sinclair’s programming takedown again had a disproportionate impact on rural America. The same was true of Sinclair’s half-year long programming takedown against small cable operator Buckeye Cable in Toledo, Ohio. As in prior examples, this exceedingly long programming takedown suggests that Sinclair, far from being a champion of rural consumers in the markets it serves, willingly uses them as pawns in seeking its own commercial advantage.” [PETITION TO DISMISS OR DENY OF DISH NETWORK L.L.C., 08/07/17]

“Frontier Communications says it’s continuing talks to restore Portland’s ABC affiliate to its cable TV lineup, three days after it dropped KATU and two related channels. Frontier and KATU’s owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, are in a dispute over the broadcast rights. The cable provider says Sinclair wants a 200 percent increase for KATU (Channel 2) and other channels. […] Although Frontier is a large phone and internet company, it operates primarily in rural areas and provides cable TV service in only a handful of markets. It began operating in the Portland area seven years ago, when it purchased Verizon’s local operations. Frontier’s relatively small size may put it at a disadvantage when negotiating with Sinclair, which is the country’s largest operator of local TV stations. Sinclair describes itself as ‘the nation’s largest producer of local news.’ ‘It seems that Frontier’s bargaining position isn’t very strong in that they don’t bring a lot of customers to the Sinclair family,’ said Fred Christ, regulatory affairs manager for the Metropolitan Area Communications Commission in Washington County. KATU broadcasts over the air, so viewers with an antenna can pick up its programming for free. But reception quality is often poor in the suburban communities where Frontier operates.” [Mike Rogoway, “Frontier continues negotiations with KATU,” The Oregonian, 01/04/17]

Sinclair Station Closures Affecting Rural Consumers

In January 2002, Sinclair announced it would suspend all news broadcasts at its Winston-Salem, N.C., ABC affiliate, blaming competition from cable news for the decision. The company had previously shut down news operations at an ABC affiliate in St. Louis.

“Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which recently shuttered Jeff Alan’s spunky news operations at its ABC affiliate here, has notified 35 employees – including its on-air personalities – that it will also suspend all news broadcasts at its Winston-Salem, N.C., ABC affiliate on Friday. Sinclair execs blamed competition from cable all-news stations for the decision. Sinclair is one of the largest television-broadcasting companies, with 63 television stations in 40 markets. Sinclair’s television group reaches about 25 percent of U.S. television households and includes ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, WB and UPN affiliates.” [Jerry Berger, “Sinclair Broadcast, Which Closed News Here, Does It Again in North Carolina,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 01/06/02]

After acquiring Allbritton Communications in 2014, Sinclair was supposed to sell off three stations in Alabama and South Carolina to meet FCC ownership rules. Instead, Sinclair chose to shutter the stations, claiming it couldn’t find buyers – an assertion met with doubt and criticism.

“Broadcasting giant Sinclair is taking some of its local stations in Alabama and South Carolina off the air after this year’s Federal Communications Commission actions to keep broadcasters from sharing resources. In a filing with the FCC on Thursday, Sinclair told the agency that it couldn’t find buyers for two stations in Birmingham, Ala., and one station in Charleston, N.C., after the FCC’s actions to curb resource sharing among broadcasters. Sinclair was supposed to sell those local broadcast stations as part of its nearly $1-billion deal to purchase stations from competitor Allbritton Communications. Earlier this year, the FCC voted 3-2 to crack down on broadcast stations that share advertising sales resources. Under FCC rules, a company can only own one of the top four broadcast stations in any market. The FCC voted in March to consider any two stations that share more than 15 percent of their advertising sales resources as being owned by the same company.”

“Broadcaster critic Andrew Schwartzman — who oversees Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation and is the former head of public interest group the Media Access Project — questioned the claims of Sinclair and Commission Republicans. […] He questioned Sinclair’s assertion that it is unable to find buyers for the station’s it’s shuttering. ‘It is pretty easy to not sell a station if it is priced too high, or too many conditions are imposed,’ he said.” [Kate Tummarello, “Broadcaster to shutter local stations after FCC collusion crackdown,” Politico, 05/29/14]

After acquiring Ohio’s WNWO in 2013, Sinclair announced in 2017 that it would cut newsroom staff by 80 percent and outsource the station’s news operations to South Bend, Indiana. 

Sinclair acquired Toledo, Ohio based station WNWO-TV from Barrington Broadcasting Corp in late 2013. In late 2016, employees learned that Sinclair would “outsource the bulk of its news programming to WSBT-TV, Channel 22, in South Bend, Indiana, resulting in station layoffs…The station’s network programming, however, will remain unchanged. The Toledo NBC affiliate and the South Bend CBS affiliate are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. ‘We’ll be hubbing our news product to South Bend, Indiana,’ one source close to the situation said. ‘They’re planning to keep a news coverage crew present here, possibly 11 people.’ ” [Blade Staff, “Sinclair Inc. finalizes its purchase of WNWO-TV,” Toledo Blade, 11/26/13; Kirk Baird, “WNWO Channel 24 to outsource local news, lay off employees,” Toledo Blade, 11/29/16]

“In a cost-cutting measure by parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc.,” WNWO-TV of Toledo, Ohio outsourced “the bulk of its news programming to Sinclair’s WSBT-TV, Channel 22, in South Bend, Ind., resulting in local station layoffs, which Sinclair confirmed in a news release…” [Kirk Baird, “TV station in Toledo outsources most work,” Toledo Blade, 11/30/16]

In early 2017, a veteran weatherman “was among the first wave of drastic newsroom staff cuts — approximately 80 percent in all — as Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., parent company of WNWO, outsources the bulk of the station’s news operation to its CBS affiliate WSBT-TV, Channel 22, in South Bend, Ind.” [Kirk Baird, “Ex-chief meteorologist reflects on WNWO cuts,” Toledo Blade, 01/18/17]

“Charity Freeman, general manager of WNWO-TV,” was laid off in April 2017. An “opening for the station’s general manager position was posted […] on the website of WNWO’s owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc. Her exit is the latest in a string of layoffs and departures from the NBC affiliate after Sinclair announced late last year that it was outsourcing the bulk of the station’s news operation to its CBS affiliate, WSBT-TV, Channel 22, in South Bend, Ind., in cost-cutting measures.” “In an email sent […] to the station’s employees, Freeman wrote, ‘It is with mixed emotions’ that she is leaving Channel 24,” a decision she said was best for “‘my sanity.'” [“Fox News guest: Hannity made ‘uncomfortable’ advances,” Toledo Blade, 04/25/17]

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