NAB: Sinclair’s Pruett lays out vision for nationally distributed news platform

Steve Pruett, executive VP and chief TV development officer for Sinclair Broadcasting (right), is flanked by Drew Marcus,
Senior Advisor for Guggenheim Securities (middle) and Justin Nielson, senior research analyst, broadcast media, S&P Global Market Intelligence during a Tuesday afternoon NAB panel focused on broadcaster's digital efforts. (Image: Daniel Frankel)

LAS VEGAS—Sinclair Broadcasting’s top digital executive used a NAB panel yesterday to lay out a loosely defined vision for a nationally distributed Sinclair news platform.

“That is a place a company could go some day,” said Steve Pruett, executive VP and chief development officer for Baltimore-based Sinclair. “There’s lots and lots of content to be acquired. You could put that on an app and put that on a platform. … The average TV station reaches about 70% of its market once a week, and about 85% one a month. We have lots of reach in this business. But we need to change our mindset and quit thinking we’re just broadcasters.”

Pruett also noted that Sinclair is producing 2,500 hours of local news a week across 193 stations. 

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“We’re the single biggest news organization in the country, that’s for sure,” he said.

RELATED: FCC commissioner tells NAB to ‘stay tuned’ on Sinclair-Tribune deal

Pruitt’s boastful comments come as the FCC is pondering Sinclair’s $3.9 billion merger proposal with Tribune Media, which would give Sinclair a portfolio of more than 200 television stations.

The comments also come amid renewed controversy over the merger, with a furor erupting this month regarding local news anchors for Sinclair stations reading a national script decrying “fake news” allegedly being published or broadcast by mainstream news outlets. 

This week, Sinclair hit back at CNN, deploying an editorial video to all of its stations accusing the cable news network of “dishonesty and hypocrisy.”

The FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai have also received pushback from special interest groups and investigators about how FCC rule changes allegedly favor Sinclair.

RELATED: Trump tweets support for Sinclair amid criticism over scripted media-bashing promos

For his part, Pruett seemed to hear nothing but the rain Tuesday at NAB, shrugging off the national noise about his company while discussing ways Sinclair can use online video to leverage the “middle and low funnels” of consumer information gathering.

In other words, a potential pickup truck buyer might see an add for a Ford truck on a Sinclair station. Sinclair wants to have content to support that consumer as he turns to the internet to gather further information about the potential purchase. 

Pruett wrapped by declaring that he was going to build Sinclair’s national platform “in the vision" of company executive chairman David Smith. “His vision is to build a platform both horizontally and vertically, both deep in the market and across the nation,” Pruett said.

Part of Smith’s vision may also be to add a conservative bent to Sinclair’s news. Reports from the The New York TimesThe Washington Post and elsewhere have indicated the company leans conservative, and a recent study by Emory University political scientists Gregory Martin and Josh McCrain found that when Sinclair buys a local station, its news shows typically begin to favor national political stories over local news and that leans conservative. The researchers noted that viewership often declines as a result, which they said suggests Sinclair is motivated by something other than the bottom line. Further, according to OpenSecrets.org, a non-partisan site that tracks political donations, Sinclair donated $30,000 to political candidates in 2017 and so far in 2018, with 80% of that money going to Republicans. 

However, Sinclair representatives have repeatedly rejected the notion that the company’s news operations have a political bent.

Article updated April 13 to clarify the political issues surrounding Smith and Sinclair’s news operation.