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 households—1 out of 11—that 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.