ýANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
FOR THE FISCAL YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2018
oTRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
FOR THE TRANSITION PERIOD FROM TO .
COMMISSION FILE NUMBER: 000-26076
SINCLAIR BROADCAST GROUP, INC.
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
(State or other jurisdiction of
(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)
incorporation or organization)
10706 Beaver Dam Road
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each class
Name of each exchange on which registered
Class A Common Stock, par value $ 0.01 per share
The NASDAQ Stock Market LLC
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ý No o
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. Yes o No ý
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes ý No o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Website, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files). Yes ý No o
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K (§ 229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer or a smaller reporting company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “smaller reporting company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer x
Accelerated filer o
Non-accelerated filer o
Smaller reporting company o
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes o No ý
If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. o
Based on the closing sales price of $32.15 per share as of June 30, 2018, the aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity of the Registrant held by non-affiliates was approximately $2,453.1 million.
Indicate the number of shares outstanding of each of the registrant’s classes of common stock, as of the latest practicable date.
Number of shares outstanding as of
Title of each class
February 25, 2019
Class A Common Stock
Class B Common Stock
Documents Incorporated by Reference - Portions of our definitive Proxy Statement relating to our 2019 Annual Meeting of Shareholders are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Form 10-K. We anticipate that our Proxy Statement will be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission within 120 days after the end of our fiscal year ended December 31, 2018.
This report includes or incorporates forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the Exchange Act), and the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. We have based these forward-looking statements on our current expectations and projections about future events. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks, uncertainties and assumptions about us, including, among other things, the following risks:
the impact of changes in national and regional economies and credit and capital markets;
the potential impact of changes in tax law;
the activities of our competitors;
terrorist acts of violence or war and other geopolitical events;
natural disasters that impact our advertisers and our stations; and
the business conditions of our advertisers particularly in the political, automotive, and service categories;
competition with other broadcast television stations, radio stations, multi-channel video programming distributors (MVPDs), internet and broadband content providers and other print and media outlets serving in the same markets;
the performance of networks and syndicators that provide us with programming content, as well as the performance of internally originated programming;
the availability and cost of programming from networks and syndicators, as well as the cost of internally originated programming;
our relationships with networks and their strategies to distribute their programming via means other than their local television affiliates, such as over-the-top content;
the effects of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, the impact of the repacking of our broadcasting spectrum, as a result of the incentive auction, within a limited timeframe and funding allocated;
the potential for additional governmental regulation of broadcasting or changes in those regulations and court actions interpreting those regulations, including ownership regulations limiting over-the-air television's ability to compete effectively (including regulations relating to Joint Sales Agreements (JSA), Shared Services Agreements (SSA), cross ownership rules, and the national ownership cap), arbitrary enforcement of indecency regulations, retransmission consent regulations and political or other advertising restrictions, such as payola rules;
the impact of FCC and Congressional efforts which may restrict a television station's retransmission consent negotiations;
the impact of FCC rules requiring broadcast stations to publish, among other information, political advertising rates online;
the impact of foreign government rules related to digital and online assets;
labor disputes and legislation and other union activity associated with film, acting, writing and other guilds and professional sports leagues;
the broadcasting community’s ability to develop and adopt a viable mobile digital broadcast television (mobile DTV) strategy and platform, such as the adoption of ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, and the consumer’s appetite for mobile television;
the impact of programming payments charged by networks pursuant to their affiliation agreements with broadcasters requiring compensation for network programming;
the potential impact from elimination of rules prohibiting mergers of the four major television networks;
the effects of declining live/appointment viewership as reported through rating systems and local television efforts to adopt and receive credit for same day viewing plus viewing on-demand thereafter;
changes in television rating measurement methodologies that could negatively impact audience results;
the ability of local MVPDs to coordinate and determine local advertising rates as a consortium;
changes in the makeup of the population in the areas where stations are located;
the operation of low power devices in the broadcast spectrum, which could interfere with our broadcast signals;
Over-the-top (OTT) technologies and their potential impact on cord-cutting;
the impact of MVPDs, virtual MVPDs (vMVPDs), and OTTs offering “skinny” programming bundles that may not include television broadcast stations or other programming that we distribute; and
fluctuations in advertising rates and availability of inventory.
our ability to attract and maintain local, national, and network advertising and successfully participate in new sales channels such as programmatic and addressable advertising through business partnership ventures and the development of technology;
our ability to service our debt obligations and operate our business under restrictions contained in our financing agreements;
our ability to successfully implement and monetize our own content management system (CMS) designed to provide our viewers significantly improved content via the internet and other digital platforms;
our ability to successfully renegotiate retransmission consent and affiliation fees (cable network fees) agreements;
our ability to secure distribution of our programming to a wide audience;
our ability to renew our FCC licenses;
our limited ability to obtain FCC approval for any future acquisitions, as well as, in certain cases, customary antitrust clearance for any future acquisitions;
our exposure to any wrongdoing by those outside the Company, but which could affect our business or pending acquisitions;
our ability to identify media business investment opportunities and to successfully integrate any acquired businesses, as well as the success of our new content and distribution initiatives in a competitive environment, including CHARGE!, TBD, Comet, STIRR, Circa, other original programming, and mobile DTV;
our ability to maintain our affiliation and programming service agreements with our networks and program service providers and at renewal, to successfully negotiate these agreements with favorable terms;
our ability to effectively respond to technology affecting our industry and to increasing competition from other media providers;
our ability to deploy a nationwide of next generation broadcast platforms network (NextGen);
the strength of ratings for our local news broadcasts including our news sharing arrangements; and
the results of prior year tax audits by taxing authorities.
Other matters set forth in this report and other reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), including the Risk Factors set forth in Item 1A of this report may also cause actual results in the future to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements. However, additional factors and risks not currently known to us or that we currently deem immaterial may also cause actual results in the future to differ materially from those described in the forward-looking statements. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date on which they are made. We undertake no obligation to update or revise any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise. In light of these risks, uncertainties and assumptions, events described in the forward-looking statements discussed in this report might not occur.
We are a diversified television broadcasting company with national reach and a strong focus on using our spectrum to bring together content providers, advertisers, and consumers on various platforms. The content, distributed through our broadcast platform, consists of programming provided by third-party networks and syndicators, local news, our own networks, and other original programming produced by us. We also distribute our original programming, and owned and operated networks, on other third-party platforms. Additionally, we own digital and internet media products that are complementary to our extensive portfolio of television station related digital properties. We focus on offering marketing solutions to advertisers through our television and digital platforms and digital agency services. Outside of our media related businesses, we operate technical services companies focused on supply and maintenance of broadcast transmission systems as well as research and development for the advancement of broadcast technology, and we manage other non-media related investments.
As of December 31, 2018, our broadcast distribution platform consists primarily of our broadcast television stations. We own, provide programming and operating services pursuant to local marketing agreements (LMAs), or provide sales services and other non-programming operating services pursuant to other outsourcing agreements (such as JSAs and SSAs) to 191 stations in 89 markets. These stations broadcast 605 channels, including 240 channels affiliated with primary networks or program service providers comprised of: FOX (59), ABC (41), CBS (30), NBC (24), CW (47), and MyNetworkTV (MNT) (39). The other 365channels broadcast programming from Antenna TV, Azteca, Bounce Network, CHARGE!, Comet, Estrella TV, Get TV, Grit, Me TV, Movies!, Nevada Sports Network, Stadium, TBD, Telemundo, This TV, Unimas, Univision, Weather, and two channels broadcasting independent programming. For the purpose of this report, these 191 stations and 605 channels are referred to as “our” stations and channels. Refer to our Television Markets and Stations table later in this Item 1. for more information.
Our broadcast segment provides free over-the-air programming to television viewing audiences in the communities we serve through our local television stations. The programming that we provide on our primary channels consists of network provided programs, locally-produced news, local sporting events, programming from program service arrangements, syndicated entertainment programs, and internally originated programming provided by our other media subsidiaries. We provide live, local sporting events on many of our stations by acquiring the local television broadcast rights for these events.
We are the nation's largest producer of local news. We produce approximately 2,500 hours of news per week at 126 stations in 85 markets. During 2018, our stations were awarded with 338 journalism awards, including two National Edward R. Murrow awards.
Our broadcast segment derives revenue primarily from the sale of advertising inventory on our television stations and fees received from MVPDs for the right to distribute our channels on their distribution platforms. We also earn revenues by providing digital content to non-linear devices via websites, mobile, and social media advertisements. Our objective is to meet the needs of our advertising customers by delivering significant audiences in key demographics. Our strategy is to achieve this objective by providing quality local news programming, popular network, syndicated and live sports programs, and other original content to our viewing audience. We attract most of our national television advertisers through national marketing representation firms which have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. Our local television advertisers are attracted through the use of a local sales force at each of our television stations, which is comprised of approximately 700 marketing consultants and 100 local sales managers company-wide.
Our operating results are subject to cyclical fluctuations from political advertising. Political spending has been significantly higher in the even-number years due to the cyclicality of political elections. In addition, every four years, political spending is typically elevated further due to the advertising related to the presidential election. Because of the political election cyclicality, there has been a significant difference in our operating results when comparing even-numbered years’ performance to the odd numbered years’ performance. Additionally, our operating results are impacted by the number and importance of individual political races and issues discussed on a national level as well as those within the local communities we serve. We believe political advertising will continue to be a strong advertising category in our industry. Political advertising levels may increase further as political-activism, around social, political, economic and environmental causes, continues to draw attention and Political Action Committees (PACs), including so-called Super PACs, continue to increase spending.
We own and operate various networks carried on distribution platforms owned by us or others including: Comet, our science fiction multicast network; CHARGE!, our adventure and action-based emerging network, which launched in February 2017; and TBD, the first multiscreen TV network in the U.S. market to bring premium internet-first content to TV homes across America, which launched in February 2017.
We also own and operate Tennis Channel, a cable network which includes coverage of many of tennis' top tournaments and original professional sport and tennis lifestyle shows, and Tennis Magazine, the sport’s largest print publication, and Tennis.com (collectively, Tennis), the most visited online tennis platform in the world.
In February 2019, we announced a joint venture with the Chicago Cubs (Cubs) that will own and operate Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports network based in Chicago, Illinois. Marquee will be the Chicago-region’s exclusive network for fans to view live Cubs games beginning with the 2020 Major League Baseball season and will also feature exclusive Cubs content and other local sports programming.
Our internally developed content, in addition to our local news, includes Ring of Honor (ROH), our professional wrestling promotion, and Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson (Full Measure), our national Sunday morning investigative and political analysis program.
Also, we have an investment in Stadium, a network that brings together professional sports highlights and college games.
Digital and Internet
We earn revenues from Compulse Integrated Marketing (Compulse), a full service digital agency which uses our digital expertise to help businesses run social media, search, advertising, email marketing, web design, mobile marketing and creative services, and audience extension, and navigate and compete in a world of constant innovation and changes in consumer behavior. In August 2018, Compulse expanded its business with the launch of CompulseOTT, a new over-the-top advertising platform exclusively focused on OTT advertising.
DataSphere Technologies, acquired in June 2017, provides marketing services to small businesses across the country and works in partnership with multiple media companies, including Sinclair.
Our digital and internet content includes Circa, a national digital news operation offering video-rich news and entertainment tailored for mobile devices and aimed at the younger demographic; NewsON, a free, ad-supported app that provides instant access to live or on-demand local news broadcasts; and STIRR, a new national OTT streaming service which offers live and on-demand content spanning entertainment, sports, and news which launched in January 2019.
Sinclair Digital Ventures focuses on investment in emerging digital technologies, ad tech, and digital content companies that support, compliment, or expand the Company's businesses.
We own subsidiaries which are dedicated to providing technical services to the broadcast industry, including: Acrodyne Technical Services, a provider of service and support for broadcast transmitters throughout the world; Dielectric, a designer and manufacturer of broadcast systems including all components from transmitter output to antenna; ONE Media, a technology innovator at the forefront of developing industry standards and related technologies for ATSC 3.0, a next generation (NextGen) broadcast standard encompassing a flexible and enhanced vision for broadcasting; and ONE Media 3.0, a wholly-owned subsidiary whose purpose is to develop business opportunities, products, and services associated with the NextGen broadcast transmission standard and TV platform.
We own various non-media related investments across multiple asset classes including private equity, mezzanine financing, and real estate investments. Some of the largest investments include: Triangle Sign and Service (Triangle), a sign designer and fabricator; Jefferson Park, a mixed-use land development project in Frederick, MD; investments in sustainability initiatives; and a portfolio of apartment complexes.
We are a Maryland corporation formed in 1986. Our principal offices are located at 10706 Beaver Dam Road, Hunt Valley, Maryland 21030. Our telephone number is (410) 568-1500 and our website address is www.sbgi.net. The information contained on, or accessible through, our website is not part of this annual report on Form 10-K and is not incorporated herein by reference.
Television Markets and Stations
As of December 31, 2018, we own and operate or provide programming and/or sales and other shared services to television stations in the following 89 markets:
Rankings are based on the relative size of a station’s Designated Market Area (DMA) among the 210 generally recognized DMAs in the United States as estimated by Nielsen Media Research (Nielsen) as of September 2018.
We broadcast programming from the following providers on our channels:
When we negotiate the terms of our network affiliations or program service arrangements, we generally negotiate on behalf of all of our stations affiliated with that entity simultaneously. This results in substantially similar terms for our stations, including the expiration date of the network affiliations or program service arrangements. If the affiliation agreement expires, we may continue to operate under the existing affiliation agreement on a temporary basis while we negotiate a new affiliation agreement.
An owned and operated network, which is carried on our multi-cast distribution platform.
The license assets for these stations are currently owned by third parties. We provide programming, sales, operational, and administrative services to these stations pursuant to certain service agreements, such as LMAs.
The license and programming assets for these stations are currently owned by third parties. We provide certain non-programming related sales, operational, and administrative services to these stations pursuant to service agreements, such as joint sales and shared services agreements.
We provide programming, sales, operational, and administrative services to this station, of which 50% is owned by a third party.
Programming to Attract Viewership. We seek to target our programming offerings to attract viewership, to meet the needs of the communities in which we serve, and to meet the needs of our advertising customers. In pursuit of this strategy, we seek to develop original programming or obtain, at attractive prices, popular syndicated programming that is complementary to each station’s network programming. We also seek to broadcast live local and national sporting events that would appeal to a large segment of the local community. Moreover, we produce local news at 126 stations in 85 markets. See News below for further discussion.
Television advertising prices are based on ratings information measured and distributed by Nielsen and Comscore. Except for its Local People Meter service and Household viewing in Set Meter Markets, Nielsen is currently not accredited by the Media Rating Council, an independent organization that monitors rating services. As of December 31, 2018, Sinclair’s footprint includes 12 markets measured by Code Reader methodology and 48 markets measured by RPD+ methodology, which uses Set Top Box data. Neither of these methodologies are currently accredited by the Media Rating Council. Comscore is an alternative rating service provider that uses set-top box television measurements to provide us additional measurement information to the ratings services that Nielsen provides for most of our stations.
News. Local news is at the heart of the Company. Our mission is to serve our communities by sharing relevant information to alert, protect, and empower our audiences. We believe that the production and broadcasting of local news is an important link to the community and an aid to a station’s efforts to expand its viewership. In addition, local news programming can provide access to advertising sources targeted specifically to local news viewers. Our news stations also produce content on digital platforms such as websites, mobile applications, OTT, and social media.
During 2018, we expanded news in 6 markets. During the year ended December 31, 2018, 34% of our net time sales were earned during the local news we produce each week.
Our local news initiatives are an important part of our strategy. We have entered into local news sharing arrangements in which we receive news in 12 markets from other in-market broadcasters. We believe that, in the markets where we have news share arrangements, such arrangements generally provide both higher viewer ratings and revenues for the station receiving the news and generate a profit for the news share provider. Generally, both parties and the local community are beneficiaries of these arrangements.
In addition to our traditional local news stories, we have utilized our national reach and placement in the nation's capital to provide our local viewers with broader national news stories which are relevant to our local viewers.
Our local news coverage is supported by our national news desk and Capitol Hill bureau. These teams produce daily unique stories unavailable from other sources. This content provides a significant point of difference with a focus on accountability reporting for our stations. Available on-air and online, the bureau not only expands our news presence, but gives our local station viewers an opportunity to hear the views of their members of Congress through programs such as "Connect to Congress," our weekly on-air and digital feature which provides an electronic video pathway for lawmakers to speak to their constituents. Our weekly investigative news program, Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson, reinforces our mission to provide our fearless storytelling on significant topics of public importance.
In January 2019, we announced a new, daily commentary segment, "Cross Point with Ameshia Cross". As programming like "Connect to Congress" continues to garner high engagement and strong reception among viewers, the addition will expand the repertoire of contributors and provide another perspective to the issues discussed in Boris Epshteyn's 'Bottom Line with Boris.
During 2017, we created a national investigative news unit consisting of more than 50 reporters, which we plan to grow, to provide in-depth stories not covered elsewhere.
We also provide our viewers with "Town Halls," which brings together our viewers to discuss major local and national topics. During 2018 we produced "Town Halls" covering political debates and discussions about a wide range of topics including the Me Too movement, bullying and teen suicide, hurricanes, school safety, and opioids. During 2019, we expect to produce over 120 hours of such coverage.
In 2017, we acquired NewsOn, a single app to watch live, local news on mobile and OTT devices.
Popular Sporting Events. At some of our stations, we have been able to acquire local television broadcast rights for certain sporting events, including NBA basketball, MLB baseball, NFL football, NHL hockey, ACC basketball, both Big Ten and SEC football and basketball, and certain other college and high school sports. Our CW and MyNetworkTV stations generally face fewer preemption restrictions on broadcasting live local sporting events compared with our FOX, ABC, CBS, and NBC stations, which are required to broadcast a greater number of hours of programming supplied by the networks. In addition, our stations that are affiliated with FOX, ABC, CBS, and NBC have network arrangements to broadcast certain NBA basketball games, MLB baseball games, NFL football games, NHL hockey games, and PGA golf events, as well as other popular sporting events. Tennis has telecast rights to the U.S. Open; Wimbledon; Roland Garros (French Open); Australian Open; ATP World Tour Masters 1000, 500, and 250 events; WTA Premier, International, and Finals; Laver Cup; Hopman Cup; ATP and WTA Pro Circuit; and College and Junior events and exhibitions. Our stations also broadcast programming and other content provided by Tennis and we provide access to certain events through our premium OTT offering, Tennis Channel Plus. See Development of Original Networks and Content below for a discussion related to the operating strategy of Tennis. In February 2019, we announced a joint venture with the Chicago Cubs (Cubs) that will own and operate Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports network based in Chicago, Illinois. Marquee will be the Chicago-region’s exclusive network for fans to view live Cubs games beginning with the 2020 Major League Baseball season and will also feature exclusive Cubs content and other local sports programming.
Control of Operating and Programming Costs. By employing a disciplined approach to managing programming acquisition and other costs, we have been able to achieve operating margins that we believe are very competitive within the television broadcast industry. We believe our national reach as of December 31, 2018 of approximately 39% of the country provides us with a strong position to negotiate with programming providers and, as a result, the opportunity to purchase high quality programming at more favorable prices. Moreover, we emphasize control of each of our station’s programming and operating costs through program-specific profit analysis, detailed budgeting, regionalization of staff, and detailed long-term planning models. We also control our programming cost by creating original high-quality programming that is distributed on our broadcast platform. This original programming includes our CHARGE!, TBD, Comet, and Stadium networks; ROH; and Full Measure.
Developing Local Franchises. We believe the greatest opportunity for a sustainable and growing customer base lies within our local communities. Therefore, we have focused on developing a strong local sales force at each of our television stations, which is comprised of approximately 700 marketing consultants and 100 local sales managers company-wide. Excluding political advertising revenue, distribution revenues, and other local revenues, 54.2% and 69.9% of our same station net time sales were local for the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2017, respectively. Our goal is to grow our local revenues by increasing our market share, developing new business opportunities, and offering marketing solutions across our platforms.
Attract and Retain High Quality Management. We believe that much of our success is due to our ability to attract and retain highly skilled and motivated managers at both the corporate and local station levels. We provide a combination of base salary, long-term incentive compensation including equity awards and, where appropriate, cash bonus pay designed to be competitive with comparable employers in the television broadcast industry. A significant portion of the compensation available to certain members of our senior management and our sales force is based on their achievement of certain performance goals. We also encourage station managers and employees to utilize our diverse station group to grow in their careers while remaining in the Sinclair family of stations via internal promotion and relocation.
Multi-Channel Broadcasting. FCC rules allow broadcasters to transmit additional digital channels within the spectrum allocated to each FCC license holder. This provides viewers with additional programming alternatives at no additional cost to them. We may consider other alternative programming formats that we could air using our multi-channel digital spectrum space with the goal towards achieving higher profits and community service. As of December 31, 2018, we have 416 multi-channels in our digital spectrum.
Distribution Agreements. We have distribution agreements with MVPDs, vMVPDs, and OTT distributors who compensate us for the right to retransmit our broadcast signals and owned networks. Our successful negotiations with MVPDs have created agreements that produce meaningful sustainable revenue streams.
Improvement and Maintenance of Our Distribution Platforms. Our Acrodyne and Dielectric subsidiaries are leaders in servicing and manufacturing broadcast infrastructure. As a result, we maintain a strong infrastructure through which we provide high quality uninterrupted content on our broadcast stations. These subsidiaries are critical in both the repack of the broadcast spectrum and the buildout of the infrastructure behind the Advanced Television Systems Committee standard 3.0 (ATSC 3.0) for both our stations and other broadcasters.
Developing New Business. We strive to develop new business models to complement or enhance our traditional television broadcast business. We have developed new ways to sell online, mobile text messaging, social media advertising, and audience
extension services along with our traditional commercial broadcasting model. Additionally, we continue to leverage our national reach to provide new high quality content to our local communities.
We continue to expand our digital distribution platforms through initiatives such as our new video management system, which simplifies and automates our broadcast-to-digital streaming workflow and allows for dynamic replacement of broadcast ads with digital ads targeted to each individual viewer, and allows us to ingest and redistribute content across our platform so that we can break news first. By using a single ad-serving system across all of our web sites, mobile apps, and other digital assets, we are able to streamline our sales workflow, optimize yield, and deliver comprehensive sales opportunities across our digital footprint. Additionally, we are deploying OTT initiatives, such as STIRR, as well as our own content applications.
Additionally, we have continued to develop business opportunities, products, and services associated with NextGen as discussed under Development of Next Generation Broadcast Platform below.
Strategic Realignment of Media Portfolio. We routinely review potential media acquisitions, dispositions, and swaps. At any given time, we may be in discussions with one or more media owners.
Development of Original Networks and Content. In March 2016, we acquired Tennis. Unlike fully distributed cable networks that are in a declining business, Tennis, with its live tournaments and matches, passionate fan base, and established brand, was under-distributed. With our relationships with the multi-video program distributors (MVPDs) and the attractiveness of Tennis’ following, we have negotiated significant increases in carriage with MVPDs, with more penetration expected. Among the many benefits of the expanded carriage and pairing their content with our broadcast promotional capabilities, are additional MVPD subscriber fees, viewers, and advertising revenues. In March 2017, we acquired Tennis Magazine, the sport’s largest print publication, and Tennis.com, the most visited online tennis platform in the world. These acquisitions complement Tennis Channel and allows us to provide greater and more in depth tennis content to consumers on TV, internet, and print. We have also expanded Tennis Channel's content by obtaining or extending rights to network and OTT streaming coverage of Women's Tennis Association, ATP World Tour 1000s, and ATP World 500s.
We have also launched or announced multicast networks Comet, our science fiction multicast network; CHARGE!, our adventure and action-based emerging network, which launched in February 2017; TBD, the first multiscreen TV network in the U.S. market to bring premium internet-first content to TV homes across America, which launched in February 2017.
Additionally, in February 2019, we announced Marquee Sports Network, a regional sports network based in Chicago, Illinois as discussed under Original Networks and Content under Item 1. Business.
Digital and Internet. Our digital properties, Circa, Compulse, Datasphere, and NewsOn are innovative products and extensions of our core broadcast business that allow us to compete for digital, internet, network, and print impressions and revenues. We continue to seek additional opportunities to invest in emerging digital technologies, ad tech, and digital content companies that support and expand Sinclair's digital capabilities and non-linear footprint.
Also, in January 2019, we launched STIRR a new national OTT streaming service which offers live and on-demand content spanning entertainment, sports, and news.
Development of Next Generation Broadcast Platform. In 2017, the FCC approved the use of ATSC 3.0, a next generation broadcast transmission standard. NextGen is capable of merging broadcast and broadband data services using over-the-air spectrum and Internet-provided data connectivity, allowing a mature broadcast industry to reinvent itself due to its mobility, addressability, capacity, IP connectivity, and conditional access.
NextGen will allow us to use our spectrum for more than just video-formatted data as we do today. As a data-agnostic Internet Protocol (IP) based pipe, we also will be able to distribute any kind of data including text, audio, video, and software. While our one-to-many architecture will remain a strength, we will be able to deliver “the last mile” from program/data origination to the consumer's receiver device across a more robust system, connect legacy ATSC 1.0 televisions to NextGen using hot spots and wi-fi functionality, and provide compatible data-offload service offerings in conjunction with certain 5G platforms. Among the many emerging opportunities are hyper-local news, weather, and traffic; dynamic ad insertion; geographic and demographic-targeted advertising; customizable content; better measurement and analytics; the ability to interface with devices connected to the Internet; flexibility to add streams as needed; substantially enhanced picture quality with immersive audio; connectivity to automobiles, including 3D mapping, telematics and infotainment; data wholesale models; and other content delivery networks. Conditional access capabilities also permits broadcasters to offer secure “skinny-bundle” pay services as well as video-on-demand offerings. In addition, NextGen provides new emergency capabilities, including advanced alerting functions which can provide evacuation routes and device wake-up features. All of these features will be available to mobile devices, allowing us to reach viewers anywhere.
In order to bring this technology to the market, we have partnered with technology leaders to develop broadcasting solutions and services in the U.S. and globally. We have also formed a joint venture with other broadcasters, SpectrumCo, to promote spectrum efficiency and innovation, and aggregate and monetize underutilized spectrum capacity over which to deliver national services and create opportunities such as robust video and data exchange. We continue to work with other NextGen stakeholders to build and test the single frequency network tower infrastructure, develop systems to allow the convergence of NextGen and 5G data delivery, and design NextGen receiver chips for mobile devices. We expect the implementation and adoption of NextGen to occur over the next three years alongside the government’s broadcast spectrum repack. Throughout 2019, we will begin deployment of NextGen capabilities on our own television facilities and in conjunction with other station operators in our markets. When completed, the country will have a lower-cost, world class wireless IP data distribution network capable of supporting multiple business models.
Monetization of Certain Intellectual Property Rights. We have developed, on our own and through our ONE Media, LLC joint venture with Coherent Logix, several ATSC 3.0-related patents that we intend to monetize directly, through third-party agents, or through a patent pool designed to consolidate similar patents owned by independent licensors for licensing to equipment manufacturers.
Other Non-media Investments. We have sought ways to diversify our business and return additional value to our shareholders through investments in non-media based businesses and real estate. We hold investments in various companies from different industries, including: a sign design and fabrication company; various real estate ventures in developmental land, operating commercial and multi-family residential real estate properties and apartments; investments in sustainability initiatives; and investments in private equity and structured debt / mezzanine financing investment funds. Currently, operating results from our investments represent a small portion of our overall operating results.
FEDERAL REGULATION OF TELEVISION BROADCASTING
The ownership, operation, and sale of television stations are subject to the jurisdiction of the FCC, which acts under the authority granted by the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Communications Act). Among other things, the FCC assigns frequency bands for broadcasting; determines the particular frequencies, locations, and operating power of stations; issues, renews, revokes, and modifies station licenses; regulates equipment used by stations; adopts and implements regulations and policies that directly or indirectly affect the ownership, operation, and employment practices of stations; and has the power to impose penalties for violations of its rules and regulations of the Communications Act.
The following is a summary of certain provisions of the Communications Act and specific FCC regulations and policies. Reference should be made to the Communications Act, FCC rules, and the public notices and rulings of the FCC for further information concerning the nature and extent of federal regulation of broadcast stations.
License Grant and Renewal
Television stations operate pursuant to broadcasting licenses that are granted by the FCC for maximum terms of eight years and are subject to renewal upon application to the FCC. During certain periods when renewal applications are pending, petitions to deny license renewals can be filed by interested parties, including members of the public.
Although historically renewal of a license, including those of the Company, is granted in the vast majority of cases, even when petitions to deny are filed, there can be no assurance that the license of any station will be renewed or, if renewed, that the renewal terms will be for the maximum term permitted.
All of our stations' most recent license renewal applications have been granted for the maximum term permitted. The next television license renewal application cycle will begin on June 1, 2020. On November 26, 2018, the American Cable Association (ACA) filed an informal request with the FCC seeking to require the early filing of renewal applications for the licenses of four of our stations. We filed an opposition to this informal request on December 10, 2018. The matter remains pending, and we cannot predict whether or when the FCC will take action on ACA’s informal request.
General. The Communications Act prohibits the assignment of a broadcast license or the transfer of control of a broadcast licensee without the prior approval of the FCC. In determining whether to permit the assignment or transfer of control of, or the grant or renewal of, a broadcast license, the FCC considers a number of factors pertaining to the licensee, including compliance with various rules limiting common ownership of media properties, the “character” of the licensee and those persons holding “attributable” interests in that licensee and compliance with the Communications Act’s limitations on foreign ownership. The FCC has indicated that in order to approve an assignment or transfer of a broadcast license the FCC must make an affirmative determination that the proposed transaction serves the public interest, not merely that the transaction does not violate its rules or shares factual elements with other transactions previously approved by the FCC, and that it may deny a transaction if it determines that the transaction would not be in the public interest.
The FCC generally applies its ownership limits to “attributable” interests held by an individual, corporation, partnership or other association. In the case of corporations holding, or through subsidiaries controlling, broadcast licenses, the interests of officers, directors and those who, directly or indirectly, have the right to vote 5% or more of the corporation’s stock (or 20% or more of such stock in the case of insurance companies, investment companies and bank trust departments that are passive investors) are generally attributable. In addition, pursuant to what is known as the equity-debt-plus rule, a major programming supplier or same-market media entity will be an attributable owner of a station if the supplier or same-market media entity holds debt or equity, or both, in the station that is greater than 33% of the value of the station’s total debt plus equity. Further, the Communications Act generally prohibits foreign parties from having more than a 20% interest (voting or equity) in a broadcast licensee or more than a 25% interest in the parent of that licensee without receiving prior FCC approval to exceed these limits.. Following a Declaratory Ruling in 2013 in which the Commission indicated that it was open to considering proposals for foreign investment in broadcast licenses that exceed the 25% benchmark on a case by case basis, on September 29, 2016, the FCC adopted a Report and Order which among other things, (i) simplified the foreign ownership approval process for broadcast licensees seeking to exceed the 25% benchmark and (ii) modified the methodology a licensee may use to determine compliance with the foreign ownership rules.
Sinclair and its subsidiaries are domestic corporations, and the members of the Smith family (who, as of December 31, 2018, together hold approximately 76.6% of the common voting rights of Sinclair) are all United States citizens. Our amended and restated Articles of Incorporation (the Amended Certificate) contain limitations on alien ownership and control that are substantially similar to those contained in the Communications Act. Pursuant to the Amended Certificate, we have the right to repurchase alien-owned shares at their fair market value to the extent necessary, in the judgment of the Board of Directors, to comply with the alien ownership restrictions.
Additional ownership rules as currently in effect are as follows:
Radio / Television Cross-Ownership Rule and Newspaper / Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule. Until recently, the FCC’s rules (i) limited the combined number of television and radio stations a party could own in a market to up to two television stations and six radio stations, depending on the number of independent media voices in the market, and (ii) prohibited the common ownership of a radio or television broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same market. On November 20, 2017, the FCC released an Order on Reconsideration (Ownership Order on Reconsideration) that, among other changes, eliminated the Radio/Television Cross-Ownership Rule and the Newspaper/Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule. The rule changes adopted in the Ownership Order on Reconsideration became effective on February 7, 2018. Petitions for Review of the Ownership Order on Reconsideration are currently pending in a consolidated proceeding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Sinclair filed to intervene in the proceeding. We cannot predict the outcome of this proceeding. We do not currently own any daily newspapers.
National Ownership Rule. The national television viewing audience reach cap is 39%. Under this rule, where an individual or entity has an attributable interest in more than one television station in a market, the percentage of the national television viewing audience encompassed within that market is only counted once. Additionally, because VHF stations (channels 2 through 13) historically covered a larger portion of the market than UHF stations (channels 14 through 51), only half of the households in the market area of any UHF station are included when calculating an entity’s national television viewing audience (commonly referred to as the UHF discount). On September 6, 2016, the FCC released a Report and Order eliminating the UHF discount (the “UHF Discount Order”), and on April 21, 2017, the Commission released an Order on Reconsideration (the “UHF Discount Order on Reconsideration”) to reinstate the UHF discount pending a future rulemaking to examine the UHF discount together with the national audience reach cap. The UHF discount was reinstated on June 15, 2017 and is currently in effect. A Petition for Review of the UHF Discount Order on Reconsideration was filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on May 12, 2017, and was dismissed by the Court on July 25, 2018. On December 18, 2017, the Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to examine the national audience reach cap, including the UHF discount. The rulemaking proceeding remains pending. We cannot predict the outcome of the rulemaking proceeding.
The majority of the stations we own and operate, or to which we provide programming services, are UHF. With the UHF discount, our current reach (for FCC purposes) is approximately 25% of U.S. households. See Item 1A. Risk Factors for further discussion of the risk related to the outcome of rules governing the UHF discount.
Local Television (Duopoly) Rule. A party may own television stations in adjoining markets, even if there is a digital noise limited service contour overlap between the two stations’ broadcast signals, and generally may own two stations in the same market only (i) if there is no digital overlap between the stations; or (ii) not more than one station is among the top-four rated stations in the market (the top-four rule). Prior to the Ownership Order on Reconsideration, the FCC did not allow a party to own more than one station in the same market if there was digital overlap between the stations unless the market containing both the stations would contain at least eight independently owned full-power television stations post-merger (the eight voices test). The Ownership Order on Reconsideration eliminated the eight voices test. The Ownership Order on Reconsideration also modified the top-four rule to permit parties to own up to two top-four rated stations in the same market on a case-by-case basis. Both rule changes became effective on February 7, 2018. Petitions for Review of the Ownership Order on Reconsideration, including the changes to the Local Television Rule, are currently pending in a consolidated proceeding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. We cannot predict the outcome of this proceeding.
Local Marketing and Outsourcing Agreements
Certain of our stations have entered into agreements with other stations in the same market, through which we provide programming and operating services pursuant to time brokerage or local marketing agreements (LMAs) or provide sales services and other non-programming operating services pursuant to outsourcing agreements, such as joint sales agreements (JSAs) and shared services agreements (SSAs). LMAs are attributable where a licensee holds an attributable interest in a television station and (i) programs more than 15% of the weekly broadcast hours and/or (ii) sells more than 15% of the weekly advertising time on another television station in the same market. LMAs existing prior to November 5, 1996 are currently grandfathered until further FCC action. Currently, all of our LMAs are grandfathered under the local television ownership rule because they were entered into prior to November 5, 1996. If the FCC were to eliminate the grandfathering of these LMAs, we would have to terminate or modify these LMAs.
In August 2016, the FCC completed both its 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews of its media ownership rules and issued an order (Ownership Order) which left most of the existing multiple ownership rules intact, but amended the rules to provide for the attribution of JSAs where two television stations are located in the same market, and a party with an attributable interest in one station sells more than 15% of the advertising time per week of the other station. JSAs existing as of March 31, 2014 were grandfathered until October 1, 2025, at which point they would have to be terminated, amended or otherwise come into compliance with the JSA attribution rule. The subsequent Ownership Order on Reconsideration eliminated the JSA attribution rule. The rule changes adopted in the Ownership Order on Reconsideration became effective on February 7, 2018. Petitions for Review of the Ownership Order on Reconsideration, including the elimination of the JSA attribution rule, are currently pending in a consolidated proceeding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. We cannot predict the outcome of this proceeding. If we are required to terminate or modify our LMAs or JSAs, our business could be adversely affected in several ways, including losses on investments and termination penalties. For more information on the risks, see Changes in rules on local marketing agreements under "The FCC’s multiple ownership rules may limit our ability to operate multiple television stations in some markets and may result in a reduction in our revenue or prevent us from reducing costs. Changes in these rules may threaten our existing strategic approach to certain television markets." within Item 1A. Risk Factors and Changes in the Rules of Television Ownership, Local Marketing Agreements, Joint Sales Agreements, Retransmission Consent Negotiations, and National Ownership Cap under Note 11. Commitments and Contingencies withinthe Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion.
In March 2014, the FCC issued a public notice on the processing of broadcast television applications proposing sharing arrangements and contingent interests. The public notice indicated that the FCC would closely scrutinize any broadcast assignment or transfer application that proposes that two or more stations in the same market will enter into an agreement to share facilities, employees and/or services or to jointly acquire programming or sell advertising including through a JSA, LMA or similar agreement and enter into an option, right of first refusal, put /call arrangement or other similar contingent interest, or a loan guarantee. In February 2017, the processing guidelines provided in the March 2014 public notice were rescinded by the FCC.
Antitrust Regulation. The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission have increased their scrutiny of the television industry and have reviewed matters related to the concentration of ownership within markets (including LMAs and outsourcing agreements) even when ownership or the LMA or other outsourcing agreement in question is permitted under the laws administered by the FCC or by FCC rules and regulations. The DOJ takes the position that an LMA or other outsourcing agreement entered into in anticipation of a station’s acquisition with the proposed buyer of the station constitutes a change in beneficial ownership of the station which, if subject to filing under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, cannot be implemented until the waiting period required by that statute has ended or been terminated.
On January 4, 2019, the Company received three civil investigative demands (CIDs) from the Antitrust Division of the DOJ. We believe the DOJ has similar civil investigative demands to other companies in our industry. In each CID, the DOJ requested that the Company produce certain documents and materials relating to JSAs in a specific DMA. We are cooperating and are in discussions with the DOJ regarding our response to the CID. At this time, we are unable to predict the outcome of the CID process, including whether it will result in any action or proceeding against us.
The Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVA), as extended by The Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act of 1999 (SHVIA), the Satellite Home Viewer Extension and Reauthorization Act (SHVERA), the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA) and the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) among other things, (i) allows satellite carriers to provide local television signals by satellite within a station market, and to carry all local signals in any market where they carry any local signals, (ii) requires all television stations to elect to exercise certain “must-carry” or “retransmission consent” rights in connection with their carriage by satellite carriers, and (iii) authorizes satellite delivery of distant network signals, significantly viewed signals and local low-power television station signals into local markets under defined circumstances.
Must-Carry / Retransmission Consent
Television broadcasters are required to make triennial elections to exercise either certain “must-carry” or “retransmission consent” rights in connection with their carriage by cable systems in each broadcaster’s local market. By electing to exercise must-carry rights, a broadcaster demands carriage and receives a specific channel on cable systems within its DMA. Must carry rights are not absolute and are dependent on a number of factors which may or may not be present in a particular case. Alternatively, if a broadcaster chooses to exercise retransmission consent rights, it can prohibit cable systems from carrying its signal or grant the appropriate cable system the authority to retransmit the broadcast signal for a fee or other consideration. We have elected to exercise our retransmission consent rights with respect to all of our stations. In February 2015, the FCC issued an order implementing certain statutorily required changes to its rules governing the duty to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith. Under these rules, unless the stations are directly or indirectly under common de jure control as permitted under the regulations of the Commission, a station may not delegate authority to negotiate or approve a retransmission consent agreement to a station located in the same market or to a third party that negotiates together with another television station in the same market, nor may stations in the same market facilitate or agree to facilitate coordinated negotiation of retransmission consent terms for their stations in that market, including through the sharing of information.
Further, in September 2015, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in response to a Congressional directive in STELAR to examine the “totality of the circumstances test” for good-faith negotiations of retransmission consent. The proposed rulemaking sought comment on new factors and evidence to consider in its evaluation of claims of bad faith negotiation, including service interruptions prior to a “marquee sports or entertainment event,” restrictions on online access to broadcast programming during negotiation impasses, broadcasters’ ability to offer bundles of broadcast signals with other broadcast stations or cable networks, and broadcasters’ ability to invoke the FCC’s exclusivity rules during service interruptions. On July 14, 2016, the FCC's then-Chairman Wheeler announced that the FCC would not, at that time, proceed to adopt additional rules governing good faith negotiations of retransmission consent. No formal action has yet been taken on this Proposed Rulemaking, and we cannot predict if the full Commission will agree to terminate the Rulemaking without action.
The FCC’s syndicated exclusivity rules allow local broadcast television stations to demand that cable operators black out syndicated non-network programming carried on “distant signals” (i.e., signals of broadcast stations, including so-called “superstations,” which serve areas substantially removed from the cable systems’ local community). The FCC’s network non-duplication rules allow local broadcast, network affiliated stations to require that cable operators black out duplicate network programming carried on distant signals. Both rules are subject to various exceptions and limitations. In a number of markets in which we own or program stations affiliated with a network, a station that is affiliated with the same network in a nearby market is carried on cable systems in our markets. Such significantly viewed signals are not subject to black out pursuant to the FCC’s network non-duplication rules. The carriage of two network stations on the same cable system could result in a decline of viewership, adversely affecting the revenues of our owned or programmed stations. In March 2014, the FCC issued a Report and Order and Further Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking, requesting comments on whether it has authority to, and should, eliminate or modify its network non-duplication and/or syndicated exclusivity rules. This proceeding is pending and we cannot predict when or how the FCC will resolve that rulemaking.
FCC rules provide that television broadcast licensees may use their digital television (DTV) channels for a wide variety of services such as HD television, multiple standard definition television programming, audio, data, and other types of communications, subject to the requirement that each broadcaster provide at least one free video channel equal in quality to the current technical standard and further subject to the requirement that broadcasters pay a fee of 5% of gross revenues from any DTV ancillary or supplementary service for which there is a subscription fee or for which the licensee receives a fee from a third party.
Programming and Operations
The Communications Act requires broadcasters to serve the “public interest.” The FCC has relaxed or eliminated many of the more formalized procedures it had developed in the past to promote the broadcast of certain types of programming responsive to the needs of a station’s community of license. FCC licensees continue to be required, however, to present programming that is responsive to the needs and interests of their communities and to maintain certain records demonstrating such responsiveness. Complaints from viewers concerning a station’s programming may be considered by the FCC when it evaluates renewal applications of a licensee, although such complaints may be filed at any time and generally may be considered by the FCC at any time. Stations also must pay regulatory and application fees and follow various rules promulgated under the Communications Act that regulate, among other things, political advertising, sponsorship identifications, obscene and indecent broadcasts, and technical operations, including limits on radio frequency radiation. In addition, television licensees have obligations to create and follow employment outreach programs, provide a minimum amount of programming for children, comply with rules relating to the emergency alert system (EAS), maintain an online public inspection file, and abide by regulations specifying requirements to provide closed captions for its programming. FCC licensees are, in general, responsible for the content of their broadcast programming, including that supplied by television networks. Accordingly, there is a risk of being fined as a result of our broadcast programming, including network programming.
On October 24, 2017, the FCC approved the elimination of the main studio rule, which required each broadcast television, FM radio, and AM radio licensee to have a main studio staffed with at least two employees located in or near its station’s local community. The elimination of the main studio rule became effective on January 8, 2018.
Congress and the FCC have under consideration, and in the future may consider and adopt, new laws, regulations, and policies regarding a wide variety of matters that could affect, directly or indirectly, the operation, ownership, and profitability of our broadcast stations, result in the loss of audience share and advertising revenues for our broadcast stations, and affect our ability to acquire additional broadcast stations or finance such acquisitions.
On November 16, 2017, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking authorizing the voluntary deployment of ATSC 3.0 and adopting rules to afford broadcasters flexibility to deploy ATSC 3.0 based transmissions while minimizing impact on consumers and industry stakeholders and seeking comment on certain additional matters. The Report and Order took effect on March 5, 2018, except for certain rules that required approval from the Office of Management and Budget which became effective on July 17, 2018. The public comment period for the proposed rulemaking closed on March 20, 2018, and the rulemaking remains pending.
Other matters that could affect our broadcast properties include technological innovations and developments generally affecting competition in the mass communications industry, such as direct television broadcast satellite service, Class A television service, the continued establishment of wireless cable systems and low power television stations, digital television technologies, the internet and mobility, and portability of our broadcast signal to hand-held devices.
Congress authorized the FCC to conduct so-called “incentive auctions” to auction and re-purpose broadcast television spectrum for mobile broadband use. In the repacking process associated with the auction, the FCC reassigned some stations to new post-auction channels. Full-power and Class A stations are expected to complete the transition to their post-auction channels in one of ten phases between November 30, 2018 and July 3, 2020. The legislation authorizing the incentive auction provides the FCC with a $1.75 billion fund to reimburse reasonable costs incurred by stations that are reassigned to new channels in the repack. Congress allocated an additional $1 billion to the reimbursement fund in the FCC Reauthorization Act of 2018. See Broadcast Incentive Auction under Note 2. Acquisitions and Dispositions of Assetswithinthe Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of our participation, results, and post-auction process.
On December 13, 2018, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to initiate the 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review of the FCC’s broadcast ownership rules, pursuant to the statutory requirement that the FCC review its media ownership rules every four years to determine whether they remain “necessary in the public interest as the result of competition.” The NPRM generally seeks comment on whether the Local Radio Ownership Rule, the Local Television Ownership Rule, and the Dual Network Rule should be retained, modified, or eliminated. With respect to the Local Television Ownership Rule specifically, among other things, the NPRM seeks comment on possible modifications to the rule’s operation, including the relevant product market, the numerical limit, the top-four prohibition; and the implications of multicasting, satellite stations, low power stations and the next generation standard. In addition, the NPRM examines further several diversity related proposals raised in the last quadrennial review proceeding. The public comment period will begin 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, which publication has not yet occurred.
The preceding summary is not a complete discussion of all provisions of the Communications Act or other congressional acts or of the regulations and policies of the FCC, or in some cases, the DOJ. For further information, reference should be made to the Communications Act, other congressional acts and regulations, and public notices circulated from time to time by the FCC, or in some cases, the DOJ. There are additional regulations and policies of the FCC and other federal agencies that govern political broadcasts, advertising, equal employment opportunity, and other matters affecting our business and operations.
Prior to our ownership or operation of our facilities, substances or waste that are, or might be considered, hazardous under applicable environmental laws may have been generated, used, stored, or disposed of at certain of those facilities. In addition, environmental conditions relating to the soil and groundwater at or under our facilities may be affected by the proximity of nearby properties that have generated, used, stored, or disposed of hazardous substances. As a result, it is possible that we could become subject to environmental liabilities in the future in connection with these facilities under applicable environmental laws and regulations. Although we believe that we are in substantial compliance with such environmental requirements and have not in the past been required to incur significant costs in connection therewith, there can be no assurance that our costs to comply with such requirements will not increase in the future or that we will not become subject to new governmental regulations, including those pertaining to potential climate change legislation, that may impose additional restrictions or costs on us. We presently believe that none of our properties have any condition that is likely to have a material adverse effect on our consolidated balance sheets, consolidated statements of operations, or consolidated statements of cash flows.
Our television stations compete for audience share and advertising revenue with other television stations in their respective DMAs, as well as with other advertising media such as MVPDs, OTT, cable networks, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor advertising, transit advertising, telecommunications providers, direct mail, internet, and other digital media. Some competitors are part of larger organizations with substantially greater financial, technical, and other resources than we have. Other factors that are material to a television station’s competitive position include signal coverage, local program acceptance, network affiliation or program service, audience characteristics, and assigned broadcast frequency.
Competition in the television broadcasting industry occurs primarily in individual DMAs. Generally, a television broadcasting station in one DMA does not compete with stations in other DMAs. Our television stations are located in highly competitive DMAs. MVPDs can increase competition for a broadcast television station by bringing into its market additional cable network channels. These narrow cable network channels are typically low rated, and, as a result, advertisements are inexpensive to the local advertisers. MVPDs may also connect two or more cable systems together, also called an interconnect, which gives advertisers the option to reach more households in a market with a single buy. In addition, certain of our DMAs are overlapped by over-the-air stations from adjacent DMAs and MVPDs of stations from other DMAs, which tends to spread viewership and advertising expenditures over a larger number of television stations. In addition, there is increased competition with OTT and other digital offerings that air video advertisements and sell programmatically to agencies and advertisers.
Television stations compete for audience share primarily on the basis of program popularity, which has a direct effect on advertising rates. Our network affiliated stations are largely dependent upon the performance of network provided programs in order to attract viewers. Non-network time periods are programmed by the station primarily with syndicated programs purchased for cash, cash and barter, or barter-only, as well as through self-produced news, public affairs programs, live local sporting events, paid-programming, and other entertainment programming.
Television advertising rates are based upon factors which include the size of the DMA in which the station operates; a program’s popularity among the viewers that an advertiser wishes to attract; the number of advertisers competing for the available time; the demographic makeup of the DMA served by the station; the availability of alternative advertising media in the DMA; the aggressiveness and knowledge of the sales forces in the DMA to call on and understand their client’s need; and development of projects, features, and programs that tie advertiser messages to programming. We believe that our sales and programming strategies allow us to compete effectively for advertising revenues within our DMAs.
The television broadcasting industry is continuously faced with technical changes and innovations, competing entertainment and communications media, changes in labor conditions, and governmental restrictions or actions of federal regulatory bodies, including the FCC, any of which could possibly have a material effect on a television station’s operations and profits.
Moreover, technology advances and regulatory changes affecting programming delivery through fiber optic lines, video compression, and new wireless uses could lower entry barriers for new video channels and encourage the further development of increasingly specialized “niche” programming. Telephone companies are permitted to provide video distribution services, on a common carrier basis, as “cable systems” or as “open video systems,” each pursuant to different regulatory schemes. Additionally, over-the-top (OTT) services allow consumers to consume programming on-demand through access to the internet and without a subscription with an MVPD. We continue to compete with the OTT services for viewership.
DTV technology allows us to provide viewers multiple channels of digital television over each of our existing standard digital channels, to provide certain programming in HD television format and to deliver other channels of information in the forms of data and programming to the internet, PCs, smart phones, tablet computers, and mobile and streaming devices. These additional capabilities may provide us with additional sources of revenue, as well as additional competition.
We also compete for programming which involves negotiating with national program distributors or syndicators that sell first-run and rerun packages of programming. Our stations compete for access to those programs against in-market broadcast station competitors for syndicated products and with national cable networks. Public broadcasting stations generally compete with commercial broadcasters for viewers, but not for advertising dollars.
We believe we compete favorably against other television stations because of our management skill and experience, our ability historically to generate revenue share greater than our audience share, our network affiliations and program service arrangements, and our local program acceptance. In addition, we believe that we benefit from the operation of multiple broadcast properties, affording us certain non-quantifiable economies of scale and competitive advantages in the purchase of programming.
As of December 31, 2018, we had approximately 9,000 employees. Approximately 800 employees are represented by labor unions under certain collective bargaining agreements. We have not experienced any significant labor problems and consider our overall labor relations to be good.
We regularly use our website as a source of company information and it can be accessed at www.sbgi.net. We make available, free of charge through our website, our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act as soon as reasonably practicable after such documents are electronically submitted to the SEC, who also makes these reports available at http://www.sec.gov. In addition, a replay of each of our quarterly earnings conference calls is available on our website until the subsequent quarter’s earnings call. The information contained on, or otherwise accessible through, our website is not a part of this Annual Report on Form 10-K and is not incorporated herein by reference.
ITEM 1A.RISK FACTORS
You should carefully consider the risks described below before investing in our securities. Our business is also subject to the risks that affect many other companies such as general economic conditions, geopolitical events, competition, technological obsolescence, and employee relations. The risks described below, along with risks not currently known to us or that we currently believe are immaterial, may impair our business operations and our liquidity in an adverse way.
Our advertising revenue can vary substantially from period to period based on many factors beyond our control. This volatility affects our operating results and may reduce our ability to repay indebtedness or reduce the market value of our securities.
We rely on sales of advertising time for the majority of our revenues and, as a result, our operating results depend on the amount of advertising revenue we generate. If we generate less advertising revenue, it may be more difficult for us to repay our indebtedness and the value of our business may decline. Our ability to sell advertising time depends on:
the levels of automobile and services advertising, which historically have represented a large portion of our advertising revenue; for the year ended December 31, 2018, automobile and services advertising represented 20.5% and 17.6%, respectively, of our net time sales and internet revenue;
the levels of political advertising, which are significantly higher in even-number years and elevated further every four years related to the presidential election, historically have represented a large portion of our advertising revenue; for the year ended December 31, 2018, political advertising represented 16.4% of our net time sales and internet revenue;
the health of the economy in the areas where our television stations are located and in the nation as a whole;
the popularity of our programming and that of our competition;
the levels of political advertising, which are affected by political beliefs, public opinion, campaign finance laws, and the ability of political candidates and political action committees to raise and spend funds which are subject to seasonal fluctuations;
the effects of declining live/appointment viewership as reported through rating systems and local television efforts to adopt and receive credit for same day viewing plus viewing on-demand thereafter;
the effects of new rating methodologies;
changes in the makeup of the population in the areas where our stations are located;
the activities of our competitors, including increased competition from other forms of advertising-based mediums, such as other broadcast television stations, radio stations, MVPDs, internet and broadband content providers and other print, outdoor, and media outlets serving in the same markets;
over-the-top (OTT) and other emerging technologies and their potential impact on cord-cutting;
the impact of MVPDs, vMVPDs, and OTT distributors offering “skinny” programming bundles that may not include all programming of television broadcast stations and/or cable channels, such as Tennis Channel;
changes in pricing and sellout levels; and
other factors that may be beyond our control.
There can be no assurance that our advertising revenue will not be volatile in the future or that such volatility will not have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition, or results of operations.
Our substantial indebtedness could adversely affect our financial condition and prevent us from fulfilling our debt obligations.
We have a high level of debt, totaling $3,892.5 million at December 31, 2018, compared to the book value of shareholders’ equity of $1,600.3 million on the same date.
Our relatively high level of debt poses the following risks, particularly in periods of declining revenues:
we may be unable to service our debt obligations, especially during general negative economic, financial credit, and market industry conditions;
we may use a significant portion of our cash flow to pay principal and interest on our outstanding debt, especially during general negative economic and market industry conditions;
the amount available for working capital, capital expenditures, dividends and other general corporate purposes may be limited because a significant portion of cash flow is used to pay principal and interest on outstanding debt;
our lenders may not be as willing to lend additional amounts to us for future working capital needs, additional acquisitions or other general corporate purposes;
the cost to borrow from lenders may increase;
our ability to access the capital markets may be limited, and we may be unable to issue securities with pricing or other terms that we find attractive, if at all;
if our cash flow were inadequate to make interest and principal payments, we might have to restructure or refinance our indebtedness or sell one or more of our stations to reduce debt service obligations;
we may be more vulnerable to adverse economic conditions than less leveraged competitors and thus, less able to withstand competitive pressures; and
because the interest rate under the Bank Credit Agreement is a floating rate, any increase will reduce the funds available to repay our obligations and for operations and future business opportunities and will make us more vulnerable to the consequences of our leveraged capital structure. As of December 31, 2018, approximately $1,438.5 million principal amount of our recourse debt relates to the Bank Credit Agreement.
Any of these events could reduce our ability to generate cash available for investment, debt repayment, or capital improvements or to respond to events that would enhance profitability.
Commitments we have made to our lenders limit our ability to take actions that could increase the value of our securities and business or may require us to take actions that decrease the value of our securities and business.
Our existing financing agreements prevent us from taking certain actions and require us to meet certain tests. These restrictions and tests may require us to conduct our business in ways that make it more difficult to repay unsecured debt or decrease the value of our securities and business. These restrictions and tests include the following:
restrictions on additional debt;
restrictions on our ability to pledge our assets as security for indebtedness;
restrictions on payment of dividends, the repurchase of stock and other payments relating to our capital stock;
restrictions on some sales of certain assets and the use of proceeds from asset sales;
restrictions on mergers and other acquisitions, satisfaction of conditions for acquisitions and a limit on the total amount of acquisitions without the consent of bank lenders;
restrictions on permitted investments;
restrictions on the lines of business we and our subsidiaries may operate; and
financial ratio and condition tests including, the ratio of first lien indebtedness to adjusted EBITDA and the ratio of Sinclair Television Group, Inc. (STG) total indebtedness to adjusted EBITDA.
Future financing arrangements may contain additional restrictions and tests. All of these restrictive covenants may limit our ability to pursue our business strategies, prevent us from taking action that could increase the value of our securities or may require actions that decrease the value of our securities. In addition, we may fail to meet the tests and thereby default on one or more of our obligations (particularly if the economy weakens and thereby reduces our advertising revenues). If we default on our obligations, creditors could require immediate payment of the obligations or foreclose on collateral. If this happens, we could be forced to sell assets or take other actions that could significantly reduce the value of our securities and business and we may not have sufficient assets or funds to pay our debt obligations.
A failure to comply with covenants under our debt instruments could result in a default under such debt instruments, acceleration of amounts due under our debt and loss of assets securing our loans.
Certain of our debt agreements contain cross-default provisions with our other debt, which means that a default under certain of our debt instruments may cause a default under certain indentures or the Bank Credit Agreement.
If we breach certain of our debt covenants, our lenders could require us to repay the debt immediately, and, if the debt is secured, could immediately take possession of the property securing such debt. In addition, if any other lender declared its loan due and payable as a result of a default, the holders of our outstanding notes, along with the lenders under the Bank Credit Agreement, might be able to require us to pay those debts immediately.
As a result, any default under our debt covenants could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and our ability to meet our obligations.
Any insolvency or bankruptcy proceeding relating to material third-party licensees as defined by our Bank Credit Agreement, would cause a default and potential acceleration under the Bank Credit Agreement.
Our Bank Credit Agreement contains certain cross-default provisions with certain material third-party licensees, defined as any party that owns the license assets of one or more television stations which we provide services to pursuant to LMAs and/or other outsourcing agreements and those stations provide 20% or more of our aggregate broadcast cash flows. A default caused by an involuntary or voluntary petition filed for liquidation, reorganization or other relief of insolvency by a material third-party licensee, or a failure of a material third-party licensee to preserve and maintain its legal existence or any of its material rights, privileges or franchises including its broadcast licenses, would cause an event of default and potential acceleration under our Bank Credit Agreement. As of December 31, 2018, there were no material third party licensees as defined in our Bank Credit Agreement.
Despite current debt levels, we may be able to incur significantly more debt in the future, which could increase the foregoing risks related to our indebtedness.
At December 31, 2018, we had $484.6 million available (subject to certain borrowing conditions) for additional borrowings under the revolving credit facility (the Revolving Credit Facility) of the Bank Credit Agreement. Under the terms of the debt instruments to which we are subject, and provided we meet certain financial and other covenants, we may be able to incur substantial additional indebtedness in the future, including additional senior debt and secured debt. If we incur additional indebtedness, the risks described in the risk factors in this report relating to having substantial debt could intensify.
Our strategic acquisitions and investments could pose various risks and increase our leverage.
We have pursued and intend to selectively continue to pursue strategic acquisitions and investments, subject to market conditions, our liquidity, and the availability of attractive acquisition and investment candidates, with the goal of improving our business. We may not be able to identify other attractive acquisitions or investment targets or we may not be able to fund additional acquisitions or investments in the future.
Acquisitions involve inherent risks, such as increasing leverage and debt service requirements and combining company cultures and facilities, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and could strain our human resources. Additionally, we may not be able to successfully implement effective cost controls, achieve expected synergies, or increase revenues as a result of an acquisition. In addition, future acquisitions may result in our assumption of unexpected liabilities and may result in the diversion of management’s attention from the operation of our core business.
Certain acquisitions, such as television stations, are subject to the approval of the FCC and potentially, other regulatory authorities. The need for FCC and other regulatory approvals could restrict our ability to consummate future transactions and potentially require us to divest certain television stations if the FCC believes that a proposed acquisition would result in excessive concentration in a market, even if the proposed combinations may otherwise comply with FCC ownership limitations. There can be no assurance that future acquisitions will be approved by the FCC or other regulatory authorities, or that a requirement to divest existing stations or business will not have an adverse outcome on the transaction.
See Note 2. Acquisitions and Dispositions of Assets within the Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of acquisitions completed in the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016.
Our investments in other non-media related businesses involve risks, including the diversion of resources, that may adversely affect our business or results of operations.
We have made investments in certain non-media related businesses. See Item 1. Business for further description of such investments and/or subsidiaries. Managing the operations of these businesses and the costs incurred by these businesses involve risks, including the diversion of our management’s attention from managing the operations of our broadcast businesses and diverting other resources that could be used in our broadcast businesses. Such diversion of resources may adversely affect our business and results of operations. In addition, our investments in real estate ventures carry inherent risks related to owning interests in real property, including, among others, the relative illiquidity of real estate, potential adverse changes in real estate market conditions, and changes in tenant preferences. There can be no assurance that our investments in these businesses will yield a positive rate of return or otherwise be recoverable.
Financial and economic conditions may have an adverse impact on our industry, business, and results of operations or financial condition.
Financial and economic conditions could have an adverse effect on the fundamentals of our business, results of operations, and/or financial condition. Poor economic and industry conditions could have a negative impact on our industry or the industry of those customers who advertise on our stations, including, among others, the automotive industry and service businesses, each of which is a significant source of our advertising revenue. Additionally, financial institutions, capital providers, or other consumers may be adversely affected. Potential consequences of any financial and economic decline include:
the financial condition of those companies that advertise on our stations and digital platforms, including, among others, the automobile manufacturers and dealers, may be adversely affected and could result in a significant decline in our advertising revenue;
our ability to pursue the acquisition of attractive television and non-television assets may be limited if we are unable to obtain any necessary additional capital on favorable terms, if at all;
our ability to pursue the divestiture of certain television and non-television assets at attractive values may be limited;
the possibility that our business partners, such as counterparties to our outsourcing and news share arrangements, could be negatively impacted and our ability to maintain these business relationships could also be impaired;
our ability to refinance our existing debt on terms and at interest rates we find attractive, if at all, may be impaired;
our ability to make certain capital expenditures may be significantly impaired; and
the possibility of consumers cutting the cord, thereby impacting our retransmission revenues.
We purchase television programming in advance based on expectations about future revenues. Actual revenues may be lower than our expectations. If this happens, we could experience losses that may make our securities less valuable.
One of our most significant costs is network and syndicated programming. Our ability to generate revenue to cover this cost may affect the value of our securities. If a particular network or program is not popular in relation to its costs, we may not be able to sell enough advertising time to cover the cost.
We generally purchase syndicated programming content from others rather than producing such content ourselves, therefore, we have limited control over the costs of the programming. Often we must purchase syndicated programming several years in advance and may have to commit to purchase more than one year’s worth of programming. We may replace programs that are doing poorly before we have recaptured any significant portion of the costs we incurred or before we have fully amortized the costs. We also receive programming from networks with which we have network affiliation agreements. Generally, the agreements are for several years. The popularity of networks can affect revenue earned on those channels. Any of these factors could reduce our revenues or otherwise cause our costs to escalate relative to revenues. These factors are exacerbated during a weak advertising market.
We internally originate television programming in advance based on expectations about future revenues. Actual revenues could fluctuate and may be lower than our expectations. If this happens, we could experience losses that may make our securities less valuable.
The production of internally originated programming requires a large up-front investment and the revenues derived from the airing of internally originated programming primarily depends upon its acceptance by the public, which is difficult to predict. The commercial success of original content also depends upon the quality and acceptance of other competing content released into the marketplace at or near the same time, the availability of a growing number of alternative forms of entertainment, general economic conditions and their effects on consumer spending, and other tangible and intangible factors, all of which can change and cannot be predicted with certainty. Any of these factors could reduce our revenues or otherwise cause our costs to escalate relative to revenues. These factors are exacerbated during a weak advertising market.
We may lose a large amount of programming if a network terminates its affiliation or program service arrangement with us, we are not able to negotiate arrangements at terms comparable to or more favorable than our current agreements, or if networks make programming available through services other than our local affiliates, which could increase our costs and/or reduce our revenue.
The networks produce and distribute programming in exchange for each station’s commitment to air the programming at specified times and for commercial announcement time during programming and for cash fees. The amount and quality of programming provided by each network varies. See Television Markets and Stations within Item 1. Business for a detailed listing of our stations and channels.
As network affiliation agreements come up for renewal, we (or licensees of the stations we provide programming and/or sales services to), may not be able to negotiate terms comparable to or more favorable than our current agreements. The non-renewal or termination of any of our network affiliation agreements would prevent us from being able to carry programming of the relevant network. This loss of programming would require us to obtain replacement programming, which may involve higher costs and which may not be as attractive to our target audiences, resulting in reduced revenues. Upon the termination of any of our network affiliation agreements, we would be required to establish a new network affiliation agreement for the affected station with another network or operate as an independent station. At such time, the remaining value of the network affiliation asset could become impaired and we would be required to record impairment charges to write down the value of the asset to its estimated fair value.
We cannot predict the outcome of any future negotiations relating to our affiliation agreements or what impact, if any, they may have on our financial condition and results of operations. In addition, the impact of an increase in reverse network compensation payments, under which we compensate the network for programming pursuant to our affiliation agreements,
may have a negative effect on our financial condition or results of operations. See Television Markets and Stations within Item 1. Business for a listing of expirations of our affiliations agreements.
We may not be able to renegotiate retransmission consent agreements at terms comparable to or more favorable than our current agreements and networks with which we are affiliated are currently, or in the future are expected to, require us to share revenue from retransmission consent agreements with them.
As retransmission consent agreements expire, we may not be able to renegotiate such agreements at terms comparable to or more favorable than our current agreements. This may cause revenues and/or revenue growth from our retransmission consent agreements to decrease under the renegotiated terms despite the fact that our current retransmission consent agreements include automatic annual fee escalators. In addition, certain networks or program service providers with which we are affiliated are currently, or in the future are expected to, require us to share revenue from retransmission consent agreements with them as part of renewing expiring affiliation agreements or pursuant to certain rights contained in existing affiliation agreements. Generally, our retransmission consent agreements and agreements with networks or program service providers are for different lengths of time and expire in different periods. If we are unable to negotiate a retransmission consent agreement or the revenue received as part of those agreements declines over time, then we may be exposed to a reduction in or loss from retransmission revenue net of revenue shared with networks and program service providers. We cannot predict the outcome or provide assurances as to the outcome of any future negotiations relating to our affiliation agreements or what impact, if any, they may have on our financial condition and results of operations. See Television Markets and Stations within Item 1. Business for a listing of expirations of our affiliations agreements.
During 2016, we entered into a consent decree with the FCC pursuant to an investigation regarding allegations made by an MVPD that we violated FCC rules around negotiating retransmission consent agreements. See Changes in the Rules of Television Ownership, Local Marketing Agreements, Joint Sales Agreements, Retransmission Consent Negotiations, and National Ownership Cap under Note 11. Commitments and Contingencies within the Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion.
The effects of the economic environment could require us to record an asset impairment of goodwill and indefinite-lived intangible assets.
We are required to analyze goodwill and certain other intangible assets for impairment. The accounting guidance establishes a method of testing goodwill and broadcast licenses for impairment on an annual basis, or on an interim basis if an event occurs that would reduce the fair value of a reporting unit or an indefinite-lived asset below its carrying value. For additional information regarding impairments to our goodwill and broadcast licenses, see Valuation of Goodwill and Indefinite-Lived Intangible Assets under Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates within Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Note 5. Goodwill, Indefinite-Lived Intangible Assets and Other Intangible Assets withinthe Consolidated Financial Statements.
Key officers and directors have financial interests that are different and sometimes opposite from ours and we may engage in transactions with these officers and directors that may benefit them to the detriment of other security holders.
Some of our officers, directors, and majority shareholders own stock or partnership interests in businesses that do business with us or otherwise do business that conflicts with our interests. They may transact some business with us upon approval by the independent members of our board of directors even if there is a conflict of interest or they may engage in business competitive to our business and those transactions may benefit the officers, directors or majority shareholders to the detriment of our security holders. Each of David D. Smith, Frederick G. Smith, and J. Duncan Smith is an officer and director of Sinclair and Robert E. Smith is a director of Sinclair. Together, the Smiths hold shares of our common stock that control the outcome of most matters submitted to a vote of shareholders.
David D. Smith, Frederick G. Smith, J. Duncan Smith, Robert E. Smith, and David B. Amy, our Vice Chairman, together own interests (less than 5% in aggregate) in Allegiance Capital Limited Partnership, a limited partnership in which we also hold an interest. Frederick G. Smith owns an interest (less than 1%) in Patriot Capital II, L.P., a limited partnership in which we also hold an interest. For additional information regarding our related person transactions, see Note 13. Related Person Transactions within the Consolidated Financial Statements. We can give no assurance that these transactions or any transactions that we may enter into in the future with our officers, directors, or majority shareholders, have been, or will be, negotiated on terms as favorable to us as we would obtain from unrelated parties. Maryland law and our financing agreements limit the extent to which our officers, directors, and majority shareholders may transact business with us and pursue business opportunities that we might pursue. These limitations do not, however, prohibit all such transactions.
We depend on key personnel and we may not be able to operate and grow our business effectively if we lose the services of our senior executive officers or are unable to attract and retain qualified personnel in the future.
We depend on the efforts of our management and other key employees. The success of our business depends heavily on our ability to develop and retain management and to attract and retain qualified personnel in the future. Competition for senior management personnel is intense, and we may not be able to retain our key personnel. If we are unable to do so, our business, financial condition, or results of operations may be adversely affected.
The Smiths exercise control over most matters submitted to a shareholder vote and may have interests that differ from other security holders. They may, therefore, take actions that are not in the interests of other security holders.
As of December 31, 2018, David D. Smith, Frederick G. Smith, J. Duncan Smith, and Robert E. Smith hold shares representing approximately 76.6% of the common stock voting rights of the Company and, therefore, control the outcome of most matters submitted to a vote of shareholders, including, but not limited to, electing directors, adopting amendments to our certificate of incorporation, and approving corporate transactions. The Smiths hold substantially all of the Class B Common Stock, which have ten votes per share. Our Class A Common Stock has only one vote per share. In addition, the Smiths hold four of our board of directors’ seats and, therefore, have the power to exert significant influence over our corporate management and policies. The Smiths have entered into a stockholders’ agreement pursuant to which they have agreed to vote for each other as candidates for election to our board of directors until December 31, 2025.
Although in the past the Smiths have recused themselves from related person transactions, circumstances may occur in which the interests of the Smiths, as the controlling security holders, could be in conflict with the interests of other security holders and the Smiths would have the ability to cause us to take actions in their interest. In addition, the Smiths could pursue acquisitions, divestitures, or other transactions that, in their judgment, could enhance their equity investment, even though such transactions might involve risks to our other security holders. Further, the concentration of ownership the Smiths have may have the effect of discouraging, delaying, or preventing a future change of control, which could deprive our stockholders of an opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and might reduce the price of our shares.
(See Item 12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters and Item 13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, which will be included as part of our Proxy Statement for our 2019 Annual Meeting.)
Significant divestitures by the Smiths could cause them to own or control less than 51% of the voting power of our shares, which would in turn give Cunningham the right to terminate the LMAs and other outsourcing agreements with Cunningham due to a “change in control.” Any such terminations could have an adverse effect on our results of operations. The FCC’s multiple ownership rules may limit our ability to operate multiple television stations in some markets and may result in a reduction in our revenue or prevent us from reducing costs. Changes in these rules may threaten our existing strategic approach to certain television markets. See the risk factor below regarding the FCC's multiple ownership rules.
We may be subject to investigations or fines from governmental authorities, such as, but not limited to penalties related to violations of FCC indecency, children's programming, sponsorship identification, and other FCC rules and policies, the enforcement of which has increased in recent years, and complaints related to such violations may delay our renewal applications with the FCC.
We provide a significant amount of live news reporting that is provided by the broadcast networks or is controlled by our on-air news talent. Although both broadcast network and our on-air talent have generally been professional and careful in what they say, there is always the possibility that information may be reported that is inaccurate or even in violation of certain indecency rules promulgated by the FCC. In addition, entertainment and sports programming provided by broadcast syndicators and networks may contain content that is in violation of the indecency rules promulgated by the FCC. Because the interpretation by the courts and the FCC of the indecency rules is not always clear, it is sometimes difficult for us to determine in advance what may be indecent programming. We have insurance to cover some of the liabilities that may occur, but the FCC has enhanced its enforcement efforts relating to the regulation of indecency. Also, the FCC has various rules governing children’s television programming, including commercial matter limitations. We are subject to such rules regardless of whether the programming is produced by us or by third parties. Violation of the indecency or children’s programming rules could potentially subject us to penalties, license revocation, or renewal or qualification proceedings. There can be no assurance that an incident that may lead to significant fines or other penalties by the FCC can be avoided.
From time to time, we may have received or been promised payment for airing program material. FCC rules require that all such sponsored material be explicitly identified at the time of the broadcast as paid for and by whom, except when it is clear that the mention of a product or service constitutes sponsorship identification. There can be no assurance that an incident that may lead to significant fines or other penalties by the FCC can be avoided. On December 21, 2017, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture proposing a $13.4 million fine for violations of the FCC's sponsorship identification rules by the Company and certain of its subsidiaries. We have responded to dispute the Commission's findings and the proposed fine; however, we cannot predict the outcome of any potential FCC action related to this matter.
From time to time, we may be the subject of an investigation from governmental authorities. For example, as described more fully under The FCC’s multiple ownership rules and federal antitrust regulation may limit our ability to operate multiple television stations in some markets and may result in a reduction in our revenue or prevent us from reducing costs. Changes in these rules may threaten our existing strategic approach to certain television markets below, on January 4, 2019, the Company received three CIDs from the Antitrust Division of the DOJ relating to JSAs in a specific DMA. We believe the DOJ has issued similar civil investigative demands to other companies in our industry. There can be no assurance that an investigation will not lead to an action or proceeding against us. In the event an action or proceeding is commenced, we may be subject to fines, penalties and changes in our business that could have a negative effect on our financial condition and results of operations
Federal regulation of the broadcasting industry limits our operating flexibility, which may affect our ability to generate revenue or reduce our costs.
The FCC regulates our business, just as it does all other companies in the broadcasting industry. We must obtain the FCC’s approval whenever we need a new license, seek to renew, assign or modify a license, purchase a new station, sell an existing station, or transfer the control of one of our subsidiaries that hold a license. Our FCC licenses and those of the licensees which we provide services to pursuant to LMAs and other outsourcing agreements are critical to our operations; we cannot operate without them. We cannot be certain that the FCC will renew these licenses in the future or approve new acquisitions in a timely manner, if at all. If licenses are not renewed or acquisitions are not approved, we may lose revenue that we otherwise could have earned.
In addition, Congress and the FCC may, in the future, adopt new laws, regulations and policies regarding a wide variety of matters (including, but not limited to, technological changes in spectrum assigned to particular services) that could, directly or indirectly, materially and adversely affect the operation and ownership of our broadcast properties. (See Item 1. Business.)
The FCC’s multiple ownership rules and federal antitrust regulation may limit our ability to operate multiple television stations in some markets and may result in a reduction in our revenue or prevent us from reducing costs. Changes in these rules may threaten our existing strategic approach to certain television markets.
As discussed in National Ownership Rule under Federal Regulation of Television Broadcasting within Item 1. Business, in April 2017 the FCC adopted the UHF Discount Order on Reconsideration to restore the UHF discount, which reinstatement became effective in June 2017. A Petition to Review the UHF Discount Order on Reconsideration was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in May 2017, and dismissed by the Court in July 2018. On December 18, 2017, the Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to examine the National Ownership Rule, including the UHF discount, which remains pending. We cannot predict the outcome of this rulemaking proceeding. Because we are near the 39% cap without application of the UHF discount, changes to the UHF discount or National Ownership Rule could limit our ability to acquire television stations in additional markets.
Under federal law, the FCC is required to review its ownership rules every four years (a "Quadrennial Review") to determine whether they are necessary in the public interest as the result of competition and to repeal or modify any regulation the FCC determines to be no longer in the public interest.
In August 2016, the FCC completed both its 2010 and 2014 quadrennial reviews of its media ownership rules and issued an order (Ownership Order) which left most of the existing multiple ownership rules intact, but amended the rules to provide for the attribution of JSAs where two television stations are located in the same market, and a party with an attributable interest in one station sells more than 15% of the advertising time per week of the other station. The Ownership Order also required that JSAs that existed prior to March 31, 2014, may remain in place until October 1, 2025, at which point they must be terminated, amended or otherwise come into compliance with the rules. These "grandfathered" JSAs could be transferred or assigned without losing grandfathering status. The subsequent
Ownership Order on Reconsideration eliminated the JSA attribution rule. The rule changes adopted in the Ownership Order on Reconsideration became effective on February 7, 2018. Petitions for Review of the Ownership Order on Reconsideration, including elimination of the JSA attribution rule, are currently pending in a consolidated proceeding before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. We cannot predict the outcome of this proceeding. If we are required to terminate or modify our JSAs, our business could be adversely affected in several ways, including losses on investments and termination penalties. See Note 12. Variable Interest Entities within the Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of our JSAs which we consolidate as variable interest entities.
Certain of our stations have entered into what have commonly been referred to as local marketing agreements or LMAs. One typical type of LMA is a programming agreement between two separately owned television stations serving the same market, whereby the licensee of one station programs substantial portions of the broadcast day and sells advertising time during such programming segments on the other licensee’s station subject to the ultimate editorial and other controls being exercised by the latter licensee. We believe these arrangements allow us to reduce our operating expenses and enhance profitability. See Note 12. Variable Interest Entities within the Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of our LMAs which we consolidate as variable interest entities.
In addition to our LMAs, we have entered into outsourcing agreements (such as JSAs) whereby 34 stations provide various non-programming related services such as sales, operational and managerial services to or by other stations within the same markets. We believe this structure allows stations to achieve operational efficiencies and economies of scale, which should otherwise improve broadcast cash flow and competitive positions. For additional information, refer to Television Markets and Stations within Item 1. Business.
On December 13, 2018, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to initiate the 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review of the FCC’s broadcast ownership rules. The NPRM seeks comment on whether the Local Radio Ownership Rule, the Local Television Ownership Rule, and the Dual Network Rule continue to be necessary in the public interest or whether they should be modified or eliminated. With respect to the Local Television Ownership Rule specifically, among other things, the NPRM seeks comment on possible modifications to the rule’s operation, including the relevant product market, the numerical limit, the top-four prohibition; and the implications of multicasting, satellite stations, low power stations and the next generation standard. In addition, the NPRM examines further several diversity related proposals raised in the last quadrennial review proceeding. The public comment period will begin 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, which publication not yet occurred. We cannot predict when the FCC will conclude the 2018 Quadrennial Regulatory Review or what the outcome of the proceeding will be.
On January 4, 2019, the Company received three CIDs from the Antitrust Division of the DOJ. In each CID, the DOJ requested that the Company produce certain documents and materials relating to JSAs in a specific DMA. We believe the DOJ has issued similar civil investigative demands to other companies in our industry. We are cooperating and are in discussions with the DOJ regarding our response to the CID. At this time, we are unable to predict the outcome of the CID process, including whether it will result in any action or proceeding against us.
See Changes in the Rules of Television Ownership, Local Marketing Agreements, Joint Sales Agreements, Retransmission Consent Negotiations, and National Ownership Cap under Note 11. Commitments and Contingencies within the Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion.
If we are required to terminate or modify our LMAs and other outsourcing agreements, our business could be affected in the following ways:
Loss of revenues. If the FCC requires us to modify or terminate existing arrangements, we would lose some or all of the revenues generated from those arrangements. We would lose revenue because we will have fewer demographic options, a smaller audience distribution and lower revenue share to offer to advertisers.
Increased costs. If the FCC requires us to modify or terminate existing arrangements, our cost structure would increase as we would potentially lose significant operating synergies and we may also need to add new employees. With termination of LMAs, we likely would incur increased programming costs because we will be competing with the separately owned station for syndicated programming.
Losses on investments. As part of certain of our arrangements, we own the non-license assets used by the stations with which we have arrangements. If certain of these arrangements are no longer permitted, we would be forced to sell these assets, restructure our agreements or find another use for them. If this happens, the market for such assets may not be as good as when we purchased them and, therefore, we cannot be certain of a favorable return on our original investments.
Termination penalties. If the FCC requires us to modify or terminate existing arrangements before the terms of the arrangements expire, or under certain circumstances, we elect not to extend the terms of the arrangements, we may be forced to pay termination penalties under the terms of certain of our arrangements. Any such termination penalties could be material.
Alternative arrangements. If the FCC requires us to terminate the existing arrangements, we may enter into one or more alternative arrangements. Any such arrangements may be on terms that are less beneficial to us than the existing arrangements.
Failure of owner / licensee to exercise control
The FCC requires the owner / licensee of a station to maintain independent control over the programming and operations of the station. As a result, the owners / licensees of those stations with which we have LMAs can exert their control in ways that may be counter to our interests, including the right to preempt or terminate programming in certain instances. The preemption and termination rights cause some uncertainty as to whether we will be able to air all of the programming that we have purchased under our LMAs and therefore, uncertainty about the advertising revenue that we will receive from such programming. In addition, if the FCC determines that the owner / licensee is not exercising sufficient control, it may penalize the owner licensee by a fine, revocation of the license for the station or a denial of the renewal of that license. Any one of these scenarios, especially the revocation of or denial of renewal of a license, might result in a reduction of our cash flow or margins and an increase in our operating costs. In addition, penalties might also affect our qualifications to hold FCC licenses, putting our own licenses at risk.
The pendency and indeterminacy of the outcome of these ownership rules and the CID, which may limit our ability to provide services to additional or existing stations pursuant to licenses, LMAs, outsourcing agreements or otherwise, expose us to a certain amount of volatility, particularly if the outcomes are adverse to us. Further, resolution of these ownership rules and the CID has been and will likely continue to be a cost burden and a distraction to our management and the continued absence of a resolution may have a negative effect on our business.
The FCC’s National Broadband Plan may result in a loss of spectrum for our stations potentially adversely impacting our ability to compete.
Congress authorized the FCC to conduct so-called “incentive auctions” to auction and re-purpose broadcast television spectrum for mobile broadband use. See Broadcast Incentive Auction under Note 2. Acquisitions and Dispositions of Assets withinthe Consolidated Financial Statements for further discussion of our participation, results, and post-auction process.
We can not predict whether the FCC will adopt further policies or incentive auctions which may affect our broadcast spectrum.
Competition from other broadcasters or other content providers and changes in technology may cause a reduction in our advertising revenues and/or an increase in our operating costs.
New technology and the subdivision of markets
Cable providers, direct broadcast satellite companies, and telecommunication companies are developing new technology that allows them to transmit more channels on their existing equipment to highly targeted audiences, reducing the cost of creating channels and potentially leading to the division of the television industry into ever more specialized niche markets. Competitors who target programming to such sharply defined markets may gain an advantage over us for television advertising revenues. The decreased cost of creating channels may also encourage new competitors to enter our markets and compete with us for advertising revenue. In addition, technologies that allow viewers to digitally record, store, and play back television programming may decrease viewership of commercials as recorded by media measurement services such as Nielsen or Comscore and, as a result, lower our advertising revenues. The current ratings provided by Nielsen for use by broadcast stations for live viewing Digital Video Recording playback are limited to 7 days past the original air date. Additionally, in most market, no credit is given for online viewing. The effects of new ratings system technologies, including ‘‘code readers,’’ ‘‘viewer assignment,’’ ‘‘portal people meters,’’ and ‘‘set-top boxes (used in Nielsen’s RPD+ methodology)’’ and the ability of such technologies to be a reliable standard that can be used by advertisers is still under review for accreditation from The Media Rating Council, an independent organization that monitors rating services. As of December 31, 2018, Sinclair’s footprint includes 27 markets that will use Portable People Meters, 7 Meter markets that will see Set Top Box data added, 12 markets measured by Code Reader methodology, and 48 markets measured by RPD+ methodology.
Cable providers, direct broadcast satellite companies, and telecommunication companies may include over-the-air antennas within their set-top boxes allowing them to provide free over-the-air signals to their subscribers which could result in decreases in our distributions revenues received for our signal being carried on their channels.
Since digital television technology allows broadcasting of multiple channels within the additional allocated spectrum, this technology could expose us to additional competition from programming alternatives. In addition, technological advancements and the resulting increase in programming alternatives, such as cable television, direct broadcast satellite systems, pay-per-view, home video and entertainment systems, video-on-demand, OTT, mobile video, and the Internet have also created new types of competition to television broadcast stations and will increase competition for household audiences and advertisers.
We cannot provide any assurances that we will remain competitive with these developing technologies.
Types of competitors
We also face competition from rivals that may have greater resources than we have. These include:
other local free over-the-air broadcast television and radio stations;
cable and satellite system operators and cable networks;
print media providers such as newspapers, direct mail and periodicals;
internet search engines, internet service providers, websites, and mobile applications; and
other emerging technologies including mobile television, over-the-top technologies, and MVPD "skinny" packages.
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 and subsequent actions by the FCC and the courts have removed some limits on station ownership, allowing telephone, cable, and some other companies to provide video services in competition with us. In addition, the FCC has reallocated and auctioned off a portion of the spectrum for new services including fixed and mobile wireless services and digital broadcast services. As a result of these changes, new companies are able to enter our markets and compete with us.
We have invested and will continue to invest in new technology initiatives which may not result in usable technology or intellectual property.
We have heavily invested in the development of the NextGen platforms as discussed in Development of Next Generation Broadcast Platform under Operating Strategy within Item 1. Business. We do not know whether the outcome of our research and development will result in technology that will be usable on our distribution platform or available to license to third parties. Additionally, even if our efforts result in usable technology, we do not know whether it will be included within the ATSC 3.0 framework. Any failure to develop this technology could result in the loss of our investment. Our cost incurred related to the development of the NextGen platform is recorded within non-media expenses within our consolidated statements of operations. Additionally, we have developed, on our own and through joint ventures, several ATSC 3.0 related patents that we will attempt to monetize directly, through third-party agents, or through a patent pool designed to consolidate similar patents owned by independent licensors for licensing to equipment manufacturers. We do not know whether our attempts at monetization will result in licensing arrangements that will be accepted by such equipment manufacturers or result in any royalty payments for our intellectual property rights.
We could be adversely affected by labor disputes and legislation and other union activity.
The cost of producing and distributing entertainment programming has increased substantially in recent years due to, among other things, the increasing demands of creative talent and industry-wide collective bargaining agreements. Although we generally purchase programming content from others rather than produce such content ourselves, our program suppliers engage the services of writers, directors, actors and on-air and other talent, trade employees, and others, some of whom are subject to these collective bargaining agreements. Approximately 800 of our employees are represented by labor unions under collective bargaining agreements. If we or our program suppliers are unable to renew expiring collective bargaining agreements, it is possible that the affected unions could take action in the form of strikes or work stoppages. Failure to renew these agreements, higher costs in connection with these agreements or a significant labor dispute could adversely affect our business by causing, among other things, delays in production that lead to declining viewers, a significant disruption of operations, and reductions in the profit margins of our programming and the amounts we can charge advertisers for time. Our stations also broadcast certain professional sporting events, and our viewership may be adversely affected by player strikes or lockouts, which could adversely affect our advertising revenues and results of operations. Further, any changes in the existing labor laws, including the possible enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act, may further the realization of the foregoing risks.
Unrelated third parties may bring claims against us based on the nature and content of information posted on websites maintained by us.
We host internet services that enable individuals to exchange information, generate content, comment on our content, and engage in various online activities. The law relating to the liability of providers of these online services for activities of their users is currently unsettled both within the United States and internationally. Claims may be brought against us for defamation, negligence, copyright or trademark infringement, unlawful activity, tort, including personal injury, fraud, or other theories based on the nature and content of information that may be posted online or generated by our users. Our defense of such actions could be costly and involve significant time and attention of our management and other resources.
Costs of complying with changes in governmental laws and regulations may adversely affect our results of operations.
We cannot predict what other governmental laws or regulations will be enacted in the future, how future laws or regulations will be administered or interpreted or how future laws or regulations will affect us. Compliance with new laws or regulations, including proposed legislation to address climate change, or stricter interpretation of existing laws, may require us to incur significant expenditures or impose significant restrictions on us and could cause a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Changes in accounting standards can affect reported earnings and results of operations.
Generally accepted accounting principles and accompanying pronouncements and implementation guidelines for many aspects of our business, including those related to revenues, leases, consolidation, programming, intangible assets, pensions, income taxes, share-based compensation, and broadcast rights, are complex and involve significant judgments. Changes in rules or their interpretation could significantly change our reported earnings, results of operations, and compliance with debt covenants.
If we fail to maintain the requirements for continued listing on the NASDAQ stock market, our common stock could be delisted from trading, which would adversely affect the liquidity of our common stock and our ability to raise additional capital.
Our common stock is currently listed for quotation on the NASDAQ stock market. We are required to meet specified listing criteria in order to maintain our listing. If we fail to satisfy continued listing requirements, our common stock could be delisted. Any potential delisting of our common stock from the NASDAQ would make it more difficult for our stockholders to sell our stock in the public market and would likely result in decreased liquidity and increased volatility for our common stock.
Terrorism or armed conflict domestically or abroad may negatively impact our advertising revenues and results of operations. Future conflicts, terrorist attacks or other acts of violence may have a similar effect.
If the United States becomes engaged in global conflicts in the future, there may be an adverse effect on our results of operations. Also, any terrorist attacks or other acts of violence may have a similar negative effect on our business or results of operations.
Cybersecurity risks, cyber incidents, data privacy, and other information technology failures could adversely affect our business and disrupt operations.
Our information technology systems are critically important to operating our business efficiently and effectively. We rely on our information technology systems to manage our business data, communications, news and advertising content, digital products, order entry, fulfillment, and other business processes. Despite our security measures, network and information systems‑related events, such as computer hackings, cyber threats, security breaches, viruses or other destructive or disruptive software, process breakdowns, or malicious or other activities, and natural or other disasters could result in a disruption of our services and operations. These events could also result in, but are not limited to, the improper disclosure of personal data or confidential information, including through third parties which receive any of such information on a confidential basis for business purposes and could be subject to any of these events, and damage our reputation and require us to expend resources to remedy any such breaches. The occurrence of any of these events could have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
ITEM 1B.UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
Generally, each of our stations has facilities consisting of offices, studios, sales offices, and tower and transmitter sites. Transmitter and tower sites are located in areas to provide maximum signal coverage to our stations’ markets. We believe that all of our properties, both owned and leased, are generally in good operating condition, subject to normal wear and tear, and are suitable and adequate for our current business operations. See