The television giant that owns two Utah TV stations and operates a third is cutting local newscasts from at least five of its stations.
The Sinclair Broadcast Group isn’t cutting back on local news at those stations, it’s eliminating local newscasts altogether. Which is at least a little bit astonishing.
Let’s be clear upfront that this is not happening in Utah. There are no plans to cut local newscasts on KUTV-Channel 2 or KJZZ-Channel 14 (both owned by Sinclair) or KMYU-Channel 12 (operated by Sinclair).
But, as of May 15, there will be no local newscasts on Sinclair stations in Gainesville, Florida; Medford, Oregon; Omaha, Nebraska; Sioux City, Iowa; and Toledo, Ohio. There are reports that local news may be dropped at other Sinclair outlets, but those are unconfirmed as of this writing.
News won’t disappear altogether from those stations. All are broadcast network affiliates and will carry national news. And Sinclair plans to replace the local newscasts with “The National Desk,” a Sinclair-produced national news feed that “provides real-time national and regional news from Sinclair’s television stations across the U.S.,” according to the company.
“TND” is also sort of the broadcast TV equivalent of the Fox News Channel — a right-wing newscast that originates from Sinclair’s station in Washington, D.C. and “offers an alternative choice for news.” That is Sinclair’s mission. Personally, I cringe every time a KUTV newscast inserts a segment from “TND” — far too often, the bias is obvious.
(In Utah, full “National Desk” newscasts air on KMYU — weekdays from 7-9 a.m. and 8-10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m.-noon and 9-10 p.m.)
It’s true that Sinclair, the second-largest TV station owner in the country, has only confirmed it’s dropping local newscasts on five of the 193 stations it owns and operates. And those five stations are all in small markets The biggest of them (Omaha) has less than 37% of the homes in the No. 30 Salt Lake City market (1,148,120, according to Nielsen). The smallest (Gainesville) as about 12% as many homes.
But not so long ago, this would have been absolutely unthinkable. Local news operations have long been the cash cows of local TV stations. Conventional wisdom was that the late newscast alone brought in half a station’s revenue.
That isn’t as crazy as it might seem. Local stations get all the advertising revenue from their newscasts — no sharing with networks or syndicators. And before local newscast ratings went into steep decline, there were a whole lot of viewers tuning in.
You don’t think that local news has expanded across TV station schedules — mornings, afternoons, evenings — to serve the public, do you? If you’ve already got a news operation up and going, it’s not outrageously expensive to add more local newscasts. And, again, all the advertising dollars go straight into the stations’ pockets.
Or, in most cases, into the pockets of their corporate overlords.
Sinclair’s financial health has been adversely affected by what has turned out to be a terrible decision made in 2019. When Disney bought most of Fox, it was forced to sell off Fox’s regional sports networks. Sinclair paid $10.6 billion for more than 20 RSNs, which it rebranded Bally Sports. And Bally Sports declared bankruptcy in March.
This move to drop local news seems more than a little bit dangerous to me. If your local network affiliate doesn’t have local news, what reason is there to watch it? You can stream ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW shows online, so you don’t really need the middle man of a local station.
And not that this would ever be an issue for regulators, but the public still owns the airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission has long “required broadcasters to serve the needs and interests of the communities to which they are licensed.”
I can see how dropping local news serves the interest of Sinclair, but I don’t see how it serves the interests of the public.
Fboys and Fgirls on The CW
When NexStar, the largest TV station owner in America, took over The CW last year, it promised to make the network profitable by broadening its appeal and cutting costs.
The owner of two Utah stations — CW affiliate KUCW-Channel 30 and ABC affiliate KTVX-Channel 4 — has just demonstrated its commitment to that plan by picking up the canceled HBO Max series “Fboy Island.” The “F” stands for exactly what you think it does. The “reality” show places three women on an island with 26 men — half of them looking for love; half of them fboys out to deceive the women and win big bucks by doing so.
Not only that, but The CW has also ordered a spinoff — “Fgirl Island.”
Nexstar isn’t exactly classing its network up, is it?
Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.