Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and entrepreneur, said Friday that he is “in jeopardy of losing all my [television] stations” in the wake of a decision by Sinclair Broadcasting Corp., his business partner and benefactor, to put on the open market stations it had planned to sell to Williams.
Should that happen, the number of television stations owned by African Americans, numbering less than a handful, would dwindle to two of the nation’s 1,348 full-power commercial stations, by most counts.
As Jennifer Saba reported for Reuters on Thursday, “Sinclair Broadcast Group proposed on Thursday to sell some Allbritton TV stations it agreed to acquire in a deal last July to meet requirements of broadcasting regulators about companies sharing advertising and sales staff across competing stations.”
Saba wrote of the Sinclair revision, “Sinclair proposed the structure as the Federal Communications Commission readies to vote on March 31 on new rules that would prohibit broadcast companies from controlling more than two TV stations in a market by sharing advertising sales staff.
“The new rules would count a broadcaster as having ownership interest in any stations where that owner sells 15 percent or more of advertising. . . .”
Last year, Williams acquired WEYI-TV, an NBC affiliate in the Flint/Saginaw/Bay City/Midland, Mich., market, ranked No. 67, and WWMB-TV, a CW affiliate in market 103 in the Myrtle Beach/Florence, S.C., market, near Williams’s hometown of Marion, S.C.
In July, when Allbritton Communications announced that it had agreed to sell its seven television stations to Sinclair for $985 million, Williams said there was “no doubt” that he planned to buy WMMP-TV in Charleston, S.C., his home state, from Sinclair. Later, Williams added WHP, the CBS affiliate in Harrisburg, Pa.
Since then, the five-member FCC has installed a new chairman, Tom Wheeler, who declared that “our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented” by joint sales agreements — “arrangements in which one station sells advertising time for another station in the same market. In more than two-thirds of JSA transactions, one station sold 100 percent of the advertising time of the other.”
He added, “JSAs are the centerpiece of what’s known as the ‘sidecar’ business model, which also includes Shared Services Agreements (SSAs) and special financial arrangements. Under SSAs, stations pool resources such as news reporters or traffic helicopters,” Wheeler wrote in a blog posting March 6.