Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sinclair's New Acquisition Could Be The Best And The Worst Thing To Happen To Cable News

It was announced on Monday that Sinclair Broadcasting had acquired all 7 ABC stations which Albritton Communications owned, including the crown jewel of the deal, WJLA-TV. Many reports deemed WJLA, the best of the deal before it was made, because of the fact that it gets a big chunk of advertising dollars from politicians and lobbyists who are trying to spread their message in the nation's capitol. 

But it's looking like the REAL crown jewel of the deal is the regional cable network that also came packaged with the deal which reaches over 2 million subscribers in the D.C. area, News Channel 8.

(TWO RANDOM NOTES -- 1. WJLA and NC8 were featured prominently in one of the best movies of the summer "White House Down" 2. I don't why in the hell Albritton sold NC8 when they could've turned it into "Politico TV" and used Sinclair's strategy of spreading the station across the U.S. with DC as it's starting point.)

Sinclair plans to turn NC8 into a national cable news network and compete with CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Now besides those top 3 stations, the field of cable news is already crowded with the other following networks

1. Al Jazeera America
2. Fusion
3. One America News
4. RT America
5. HLN
7. Fox Business
8. The Blaze

And who knows, I'm sure I'm forgetting some. The point is, the cable news field probably isn't the most innovative area of TV which anyone would want to invest in or go into right now unless you have an idea that is exceedingly different. 

One group that I think should consider starting a 24/7 news network eventually is Vice, bringing millenials a source for alternative news and documentaries or Huffington Post, whose live conversation broadcasts are very different and more in depth than the rest of cable news. With all that being said though, I still think if Sinclair executed this network well, it could work despite all this competition and here's why.

Sinclair owns a large wattage of local stations and local news operations nationwide. The idea Sinclair has with NC8 is to become the national hub for local news. There are many local news stories which haven't been exposed to a national audience because of cable news' obsession of being all politics all the time (with the exception of the Zimmerman/Trayvon saga).

The Good Which Comes With This

NC8 would be able to provide a niche network that actually tells Americans what is going on in America in places besides Congress and the White House because of the amount of resources it has via local operations. This also gives a platform for local area reporters to be exposed for the great work that they do on a national scale.

Nowadays, when breaking news happens in a city, cable news networks will simulcast footage from local station's feeds while keeping audio from the anchor who is in place while depending on Twitter for information rather than also simulcasting the audio from local reporters and anchors who are in the area and/or on the scene. 

Another thing which cable news networks have avoided (especially CNN and HLN who were the leaders at doing this) is picking up local investigative reports and showing them during their own respective news shows. If John Doe at a CNN affiliate breaks a story that is only relevant to residents of that city but would be interesting to a national audience, the likelihood CNN or HLN broadcasts that story nowadays is slim to none compared to the 90s and early 2000s when that was their main sleaze.

Sinclair is great at being an investigative watchdog against local governments no matter what party it is and if their affiliates are able to break local stories and NC8 is able to take them national, it's a big plus for the network because of the exclusivity of it and the fact that it's a niche that the others aren't currently serving.

The Ugly Which Could Come With This

Although the prospects of more local news and local government watchdog-ing being exposed on a national scale is good, it's no secret that Sinclair's allegiances lie with the Republican Party. NC8 is going to need a way to fill it's primetime schedule with interesting programming that can compete with O'Reilly, Cooper and Maddow.

Although it'll be great that Fox News is getting competition from it's angle for the first time, that competition could come from an angle which is even further than where Fox stands.

I forsee Sinclar ceding primetime of a potential cable news network to hard right extremists who don't really have a network they can relate to. Fox doesn't go far enough to fit their needs and I don't think I need to explain why the other media outlets in existence wouldn't cut it for the Tea Party patriots.

The only two networks which would come close are One America News and The Blaze, but neither of them has carriage on any major cable or satellite companies besides Dish Network.

NC8 Carriage 

So now you may be asking, what makes you think the telcos would be willing to give NC8 any carriage? "X-Factor", "Glee", NFL, NBA, "The Bachelor" and "Scandal", that's what. Unlike the two mentioned examples, Sinclair has major leeway when it comes to retranssmission fees and carriage.

Once those contracts expire or if there's any reason or clause that allows the ability for renegotiations, then Sinclair will be easily be able shove NC8 down the throats of telcos in exchange for the rights to also carry local Fox, CW and ABC affiliates which is what Sinclair mostly owns.

In Conclusion

BEST - more local news broadcast nationally again
WORST - possible hard right primetime schedule to differentiate itself and compete with Fox News.

This move is great for TV viewers who get another choice to choose from, potentially great for hard rightys and bad for those who support civil discourse when it comes to politics which neither hard lefties or rightys like to conform to, as well as syndication companies, who might see less of their programs bought if Sinclair plugs in simulcasts of NC8 to replace syndicated programming, as David Zurawik predicts could happen.

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