In September, Sinclair announced the station sales with Wilkes Barre, Pa.-based New Age Media. As part of the deal, Sinclair will own the NBC station in Tallahassee and the CBS station in Gainesville while selling its FOX affiliate in Tallahassee and its NBC affiliate in Gainesville to a firm called Cunningham Broadcasting Corp., a so-called sidecar company with which Sinclair has close and established ties. Tallahassee's Designated Market Area (DMA) includes the Thomasville, Ga. market.
To protect competition and consumers, the FCC's duopoly rules prohibit common ownership of more than one of the mostly highly rated TV stations in a local market.
Under the coordination agreements with Cunningham filed with the FCC, Sinclair will be establishing "virtual duopolies" in Tallahassee and Gainesville, consistent with the corporate shell games Sinclair has played with Cunningham and its other sidecars partners in prior transactions. Most importantly, the coordination agreements (also known as Joint Sales Agreements (JSAs) and Shared Services Agreements (SSAs) that are part of the application allow Sinclair to negotiate retransmission consent for both the NBC and FOX stations in Tallahassee and both the CBS and NBC stations in Gainesville. The JSAs plainly state that Cunningham must "consult and cooperate" with Sinclair in the negotiation of retransmission consent agreements, and may even direct Sinclair to act as its agent in such negotiations.
The coordination of retransmission consent negotiations of two top-four rated Big Four network affiliates in the same market will serve to eliminate the competition that now exists between these stations for retransmission consent fees from Multichannel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs), leading to higher prices for retransmission consent and higher rates for consumers. In both of these markets, the proposed transaction would increase the disruption caused by actual blackouts because Sinclair will be able to pull two highly rated stations at the same time.
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