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Tribune Acquisition Adds to Sinclair’s Ad Advantages

Sinclair Broadcast Group’s nearly-$4 billion deal to acquire Tribune Media has drawn attention largely because of the size of the buyer (the No. 1 local station owner becoming dramatically bigger) and Sinclair’s provocative profile as a right-leaning, Trump-affiliated media owner.

But another crucial aspect of the transaction, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, is that it creates a behemoth that could truly unleash the power of advanced advertising.

Similar this-could-be-huge assessments, of course, followed AT&T’s announced plan to take over Time Warner. That is especially true because its DirecTV unit is already one of the few distributors actually doing addressable and targeted advertising. On the broadcast side, though, it remains a dream deferred. For now, addressable is maybe 1% of the total market and has been stuck there for a while. The dream of many is to unlock massive amounts of revenue from the ability to target viewers based not on Nielsen age and gender demos but on consumer behavior, geographic location and a host of other data.

Broadcast television is not yet technologically able to execute addressable campaigns. But the implementation of ATSC 3.0, the new set of tech standards governing stations, could finally throw the switch. It aims to offer 4K picture quality, enhanced sound and a viewing experience that puts broadcast on a more equal footing with streaming services. But advertising is the reason it has captured the fancy of the local business, which is under intense pressure and consolidating rapidly. David Smith, Sinclair’s executive chairman and longtime ex-CEO, said in a statement that the deal will enable the combined company to “advance the Next Generation Broadcast Platform. This acquisition will be a turning point for Sinclair, allowing us to better serve our viewers and advertisers.”

There will likely be some stations sold off where there is duplication, but the deal brings major markets like New York, Los Angeles and Miami into the Sinclair fold. The total number of stations will exceed 200, covering some 72% of U.S. households. That’s without the UHF discount, an ownership cap that the now-Republican-controlled FCC just voted to remove. (With the discount applied, it would still be at 42%, which is beyond the current threshold of 39%.)

With so much scale, and so much technology waiting to be rolled out, what could go wrong? Well, there’s the simple blocking and tackling of going from the current ATSC 1.0 standards to 3.0 (2.0 was developed but eventually scrapped). As Cablefax and others have reported, there are signs of discord among the parties who will need to team up for the conversion, especially the pay-TV operators. Broadcasters, of course, have sounded bullish notes on 3.0, especially at last month’s NAB Show, where it was practically a religious mantra. The rollout is technically under way, though consumers will need new TV sets or devices in order to experience it in full.

Apart from the tech conversion, there is also the matter of how it will scale financially. Even if there is an endless new frontier of broadcast homes suddenly opened up to hyper-targeted ad buys, does that make the most sense from the sell side? Buyers want targeting, especially seeing what kind of visibility digital platforms afford them, but sellers need to take a beat, some vets emphasize.

“There are open questions on live linear TV advertising addressability and how much TV networks truly benefit from the laser-targeting of viewers,” Accenture managing director Mike Chapman told Found Remote recently. “Specifically, networks and broadcasters need to determine what the potential impacts to price and volume are as you parse up and price your ad inventory more granularly for targeted ads, versus the mass advertising approach that takes place today on TV.”