The chief executive of one of the country’s largest owners of broadcast television stations says his company is increasingly looking toward non-media assets to invest in.
The reason is rooted in regulatory requirements concerning broadcast stations, which must be licensed by the government and which carry with it certain responsibilities and obligations.
“As we looked at our business, it became increasingly clear that from a regulatory perspective, broadcasting is not in a good position,” Chris Ripley, the CEO of Sinclair, Inc., said in a wide-ranging interview with the Baltimore Sun over the weekend.
“Our core business and our legacy might be in media and broadcasting, but at the end of the day we’re looking to make Sinclair a success in any industry that it’s in,” Ripley continued. “If there are better investment opportunities in other industries, then we should pursue those rather than just blindly saying we’re a broadcaster, and this is all we’re going to do.”
The comments come at a pivotal time for Sinclair, which is in the process of working through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case filed by its regional sports subsidiary, Diamond Sports, and several years after Sinclair failed to merge with what was then Tribune Media to form the largest independent broadcast television operator in the country. (Tribune Media ultimately merged with present-day Nexstar Media Group.)
In April, Sinclair announced a corporate restructuring that siloed some of its traditional broadcast and media properties from its real estate and other investment businesses. As part of the reorganization, Sinclair Broadcast Group will continue to operate the local broadcast television stations and Diamond Sports, while the newly-created Sinclair Ventures oversees the Tennis Channel, advertising platform Compulse and various private equity and real estate assets.
Sinclair is not moving away from its broadcast operations: The company is heavily invested in developing and marketing the next-generation digital television standard called ATSC 3.0, which also goes by the brand name “NextGen TV.” And Sinclair is one of several independent broadcasters participating in a new lobbying effort that demands federal regulators impose cable-like contracts on streaming services in which companies like Sinclair are directly compensated for carriage of their channels on services like Fubo, Sling TV and YouTube TV (which, some argue, could cause rates for those streaming services to skyrocket over time).
But Ripley doesn’t want Sinclair to be a one-trick pony. Instead, the expectation is that Sinclair will grow beyond its core broadcast assets, to become a well-diversified company synonymous with various different businesses.
At least that’s the goal. And it won’t be easy. Convincing shareholders to invest in Sinclair’s stock while the company is exploring different businesses and strategies comes with unique challenges.
“The main risk of diversifying is you’re overpaying ,or you’re getting into something you don’t know very well,” Jeff Hooke, a senior lecturer at the business school for Johns Hopkins University, told the Baltimore Sun in an interview.
But Ripley has already considered this, and he believes Sinclair is well-positioned to invest strategically in other areas, including nursing homes, pet insurance and alternate energy.