The local television landscape in the U.S. has undergone major changes in recent years, as a wave of consolidations and station purchases have made some broadcast media owners considerably larger. On Monday, Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the biggest owners of local TV stations, announced that it has agreed to purchase Tribune Media’s 42 stations for $3.9 billion – a deal both Nexstar and 21st Century Fox were reportedly also pursuing.
The merger would give Sinclair an even bigger presence in local TV, which continues to reach more U.S. adults than any other news platform. In a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 46% of Americans said they often get news from local TV, compared with 31% for cable and 20% for print newspapers.
In 2004, the five largest companies in local TV – Sinclair, Nexstar, Gray, Tegna and Tribune – owned, operated or serviced 179 full-power stations, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings data. That number grew to 378 in 2014 and to 443 in 2016. If approved by regulators, Sinclair’s acquisition of Tribune would bring its total to 208, by far the largest among the media companies.
As of 2016, these five companies owned an estimated 37% of all full-power local TV stations in the country, as identified in a Pew Research Center analysis of BIA Kelsey data.
Beyond increases in advertising revenue, the economic benefits of station consolidation also include increases in retransmission fees – the fees paid to station owners by cable and satellite systems to carry local channels – and an influx of political advertising since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which struck down major restrictions on corporate contributions to political campaigns.