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Conservative media, most notably perennial ratings leader Fox News, likely breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when the $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media by Sinclair Broadcast Group was withdrawn.
Had the deal gone through, Sinclair was widely expected to use a cable station it would acquire, WGN America, to fashion a right-leaning cable news channel. “They were going to do a national competitor to Fox,” a person with knowledge of the company’s plans confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter this week.
Sinclair had, for months, been recruiting potential hosts to the network, including former Fox News personalities and conservative radio stars like Michael Savage.
But with the deal scrapped, Fox News and executive chairman Rupert Murdoch won’t have to worry about being outflanked by a company with the size and financial resources of Sinclair.
“Seems like Murdoch won!” one of the conservative media personalities pursued by Sinclair said Thursday. The company’s long-rumored plan to take on Fox News “blew up” with the deal, said another.
Sinclair, however, had said publicly that it did not intend to take on the news channel. Doing so would have been logistically challenging, all who know the space agree.
“There’s definitely a competitive opening in the cable news world for someone in the center right, but it’s just amazingly hard to pull off any new cable network,” said a longtime Fox News executive. “So, overall, I guess I’d say this breakup isn’t a big win for FNC, but it certainly made it less likely that a probably unlikely competitor would emerge.”
Fox News is not the only network that has reason to celebrate. Two smaller conservative cable networks, Newsmax and One America News Network, both came out against the Sinclair-Tribune deal, joining up with a grassroots opposition group called the Coalition to Save Local Media.
“When Newsmax began its opposition to this merger, we were told it was virtually ‘guaranteed’ and could not be stopped,” Newsmax head honcho Chris Ruddy said in a statement applauding the termination. “I like taking on hopeless causes, especially when I believe the facts and good sense argue for such a cause.”
Fox News has long been mum on the potential for a right-leaning competitor, and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the deal’s cancellation.
While Sinclair won’t expand further with the acquisition of Tribune’s stations, the conservative, Baltimore-based company is still a local television powerhouse, and is able to use its massive market penetration to throw its weight around. Which means that Murdoch isn’t completely out of the woods just yet.
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William Jackson Harper