Another media conglomerate has moved into Montana. No, it’s not Trump TV but the image above was so compelling and it could be the way television ownership is headed. This time, it’s the E.W. Scripps Company buying nine TV stations in Montana’s major markets.
This brings the total of Scripps’ stations to 51 in the U.S., in markets large and small. The company says it reaches 21 percent of U.S. households.
But that pales in comparison to the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 193 stations and reaches 70 percent of U.S. households. It was just last year that Sinclair bought four Montana TV stations serving the markets of Missoula, Butte, Bozeman and Kalispell.
Scripps bought stations in Helena (2), Great Falls (2), Missoula, Billings, Butte, Bozeman and Kalispell.
Basically, three companies own the television stations in the major Montana markets: Sinclair, Scripps and Cowles Montana Media. Cowles owns seven ABC/FOX stations and one NBC station. It’s a family-owned company out of Spokane that also owns the Spokesman-Review newspaper, a paper mill and paper recycling venture, TV stations in Washington and real estate in the Spokane Valley.
We’ll see if Cowles can survive in this era of media mega-mergers. This line in a Missoulian story says it all:
Terry Hurley, the president of Cordillera (that sold the stations to Scripps), said the company believes that an “evolving broadcast industry” requires an ability to scale for the future.
I interpret that to mean “you have to own a whole bunch TV stations to make it in this new, crazy media landscape.”
Sinclair is even scarier than FOX news. FOX is the number one nationally viewed cable channel but most people know the FOX modus operandi. Sinclair, because its stations are local, is not yet branded by consumers as a right-wing enterprise. It owns ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX stations and seems to fly under the radar. Sinclair’s executive chairman, David D. Smith is a big fan of Donald Trump’s.
A New Yorker article reported this:
In some cases, anchors have been compelled to read from scripts prepared by Sinclair. In April, 2018, dozens of newscasters across the country (including Missoula’s KECI anchors) parroted Trump’s invectives about “fake news,” saying, “Some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”
The article reports on the influence local stations have on their viewers: “seventy-six per cent of Americans say that they still trust their local news stations—more than the percentage professing to trust their family or friends.”
Scripps has a politically moderate reputation — although it did lobby the FCC to reduce transparency in political advertising disclosure — but it is not Sinclair.
Still, with so much of the media in the hands of so few, this has to be disconcerting.