Report: Sinclair looks to take on Fox News with cable news offering

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(Photo: Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc./Creative Commons)

(Photo: Cindy Kurman, Kurman Communications, Inc./Creative Commons)

The Sinclair Broadcasting Group is taking aim at the conservative-leaning Fox News Channel with a potential cable news offering of its own, according to a report.

POLITICO reported on Friday that Sinclair has held discussions with several cable news figures to discuss possible plans to launch a news channel following the company’s acquisition of Tribune Broadcasting.

The report contradicts statements made by Sinclair executives in the past when the broadcaster was attempting to close on several other acquisitions of local television companies. In 2017, Sinclair Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley told a news outlet that “the world (doesn’t) need another cable news platform.”

“Our strength is local news,” Ripley told Variety. “The market for national cable news is very well-served.”

At the time, Ripley said the company was focused on the profitable local television news industry. But Sinclair is now actively drawing plans to take on Fox News and other conservative news outlets if its planned merger with the Tribune Company goes through, according to POLITICO.

Once the deal closes, Sinclair would own and operate WGN America, which currently reaches 80 million households via cable, satellite and streaming TV. Sinclair currently owns the Tennis Channel. Either station could be relaunched into a national news outlet, POLITICO says.

Greta Van Susteren, a former Fox News anchor, confirmed she had spoken with a Sinclair executive over the last few months. Susteren, who is currently at the Voice of America, said she “might” hold further talks with Sinclair if the deal with Tribune is given regulatory approval.

Others possibly approached by Sinclair for an upcoming news channel include former Fox News reporter James Rosen and anchor Eric Bolling, POLITICO said. Bill O’Reilly, who exited Fox News last year following a sexual harassment scandal, was also said to have been approached by Sinclair but the talks “fell apart and O’Reilly no longer appears to be on the table,” POLITICO said.

Sinclair is one of the largest owners of broadcast television stations in the country thanks in large part to its aggressive acquisition of local television stations and, in some cases, entire broadcast companies. When Sinclair closed on Allbritton Communications in 2013, a revolt by some employees of the former company — particularly those at Washington, D.C.-area ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7) — drew some media attention.

But it has been the company’s planned acquisition of Tribune Broadcasting, another large national broadcaster, that has found itself in the immediate crosshairs of media industry analysts and critics alike.

Last month, a video compilation that showed news anchors at Sinclair operations reading promotional material that condemned competitors for airing “fake news” went viral after it was published by the website Deadspin. Sinclair has since been criticized for placing language in the contracts of its on-air talent that charged news anchors and reporters for leaving the company. At least one employee told Bloomberg News that the financial penalties associated with leaving Sinclair prevented him from quitting.

Sinclair has also been criticized for forcing stations to air so-called “must run” segments during their newscasts. Those segments include a reoccurring feature called the “Terrorism Alert Desk” and commentary videos featuring former Republican political strategist Boris Epshteyn, who was hired to be Sinclair’s chief political analyst following a brief stint as a special assistant in the Trump administration.

Sinclair offered $3.9 billion for dozens of stations operated by Tribune Broadcasting in 2017. The deal would give Sinclair a presence in major American cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago where Tribune currently operates stations. Last month, Sinclair said it intended to keep those stations — either by operating them itself or through local marketing agreements with third parties — but would divest some Fox affiliates including San Diego’s KSWB-TV (Channel 69), Denver’s KDVR (Channel 31) and Sacramento’s KTXL (Channel 40) in an attempt to make it easier to get the deal approved by regulators.

(Disclosure: The author of this article is a former employee of Tribune Broadcasting-owned KTXL)

POLITICO: Sinclair plans to challenge Fox News after Tribune deal closes