Sinclair CEO sees little likelihood of TV spectrum auction (audio)


Wall Street analysts seem to have a lot of interest in the potential for Congress authorizing voluntary auctions of current television spectrum by the FCC. But like nearly all large broadcasters, Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO David Smith has absolutely no interest in participating even if auctions are authorized. Nonetheless, he had to deal with the question yet again as Sinclair reported its Q4 financial results and conducted its quarterly conference call with analysts.

Rather than auctioning television spectrum and repackaging the remaining stations, Sinclair has been promoting FCC rule changes to permit broadcasters to use overlay technology to maximize the use of spectrum for broadband delivery. That’s being pitched as a better alternative for broadcasters, consumers and the US Treasury.

In fact, you can click here to download a 31-page pdf of the broadcast overlay study from Sinclair’s website.

But Washington lawmakers are still focused on spectrum auction legislation, so Smith was asked about the likelihood of a bill passing this year. Not much chance of that, he said, and even if it were to pass in 2012 it would still be several more years before any auction actually took place.

David Smith:

Even if voluntary auctions legislation does pass, Smith questions whether enough TV licensees would participate to make it worthwhile for the government. Sinclair won’t and Smith says the other broadcasters he’s spoken with also aren’t interested. So how would the FCC hold spectrum auctions if virtually no one wants to sell?

RBR-TVBR observation: We have heard very little – virtually zero – interest from broadcasters in participating in potential spectrum auctions. And of the tiny interest we’ve detected, absolutely none has been from anyone holding TV licenses along the East or West Coasts. We would have to agree that the whole spectrum auction debate on Capitol Hill is much ado about nothing.