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Free Minds & Free Markets

Sinclair Broadcast Group

In April, America's journalistic class sounded the alarm at the alleged totalitarian menace of a local TV news syndicate, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, beaming out the same fake-news-is-bad-for-democracy promotional message to all its markets. Many of the sentiments in that advertorial were indistinguishable from recent campaigns by The Washington Post and The New Yorker, but the Sinclair journos reading the script did appear less than thrilled with the assignment.

Often derided during the panic as a "monopoly," Sinclair, which owns or operates 193 local TV stations (most of them affiliates of the big four major networks), is technically prohibited from operating two or more of the top four stations in a given market. There are currently around 1,775 total terrestrial TV stations nationally, as well as about 5,200 cable channels run by 660 operators. The hated promo ran on fewer than 100 of them.

When critics invoke "monopoly" to describe the company, they're referring only to the TV choices among the sliver of American households1 out of 11that don't have some form of cable. Even when you focus on that rapidly shrinking 9 percent, Sinclair's market share averages out in the low 20s. If you expand your view to the many ways people actually watch television, the scare stories start to look ridiculous. An estimated 2.5 million Americans on a given night consume Sinclair's newscasts, or around the same number as watch Fox News in prime time.

Anti-media-consolidation types routinely conflate the ungood media choices that Uncle Grandpa makes with a lack of actual choices. But people aged 65 and over are by far the most likely to have a cable or satellite subscription (84 percent). Being afraid of Sinclair is like worrying about the Gannett newspaper chain in 1999. Both are unlovable, acquisition-happy cost cutters looking to dominate rapidly shrinking legacy markets. The proper response is not to mobilize the federal government to act on journalistic, political, or even antitrust grounds. The proper response is to point in the direction of corporate HQ and laugh.

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  • jdgalt1||

    This piece is seriously wrong and stupid, because it ignores the fact that media consolidation does not affect only the legacy media -- the six or eight multinational giants that now dominate radio, TV, newspapers, and book publishing also dominate the Internet and even phone companies, thus giving them the ability, if consolidation continues, to shut down or at least assume editorial control of every single competitor with their news services -- even bloggers and sites such as Reason. If you don't help stop this from happening, you will regret it with the rest of us, but you will be too late to matter.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The proper approach is to enable broadcasters to compete fairly. Sinclair has been cheating, gaming the regulatory system for more than a decade with sham transactions. Sinclair's lack of business ethics is an apt fit for its goober politics.

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