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Sinclair Broadcast Group Adds to Content Portfolio with TBD Channel Launch

Baltimore-based Sinclair Broadcast Group has been on a mission during the past year to leverage the muscle of its vast TV station group to create programming assets that extend far beyond local news and sports.

Sinclair this week announced plans to launch a digital multicast network, dubbed TBD, early next year that will feature an array of made-for-Internet content from a variety of providers. It’s akin to curating an MCN-style feed for a linear TV channel. The channel promises to serve up a mix of web series, short films and short-form content involving fashion, comedy, lifestyle, eSports and music, all curated by the Dublin-based video aggregation service QYOU. Sinclair said TBD will have a digital streaming component as well.

“Our recent focus has been on expanding our business with new digital multicast networks that leverage our broadcast spectrum and household reach,” said Chris Ripley, who was named president-CEO of Sinclair in November. “With the launch of TBD, we aim to pair the very best premium digital-first content with the unmatched branding power of traditional television.”

TBD is an effort to draw a younger audience to Sinclair’s stations, using the multicast option that allows its broadcast TV stations to offer additional channels beyond the mothership network-affiliated stations. Most of the multicast channels launched to date by broadcast stations and Hollywood studios have focused on vintage programming or niche audiences such as the African-American-focused Bounce TV. TBD is an effort to draw a younger crowd that is drawn to nontraditional content. The channel’s partners through QYOU include Jukin Media, Legendary Digital Networks (home of Nerdist & Geek and Sundry), Whistle Sports, Kinonation, Zoomin’ and Canvas Media Studios.

Plans for the launch of TBD follow the launch in late 2015 of Comet, a digital multicast network devoted to sci-fi movies and TV shows. Sinclair’s vast TV station holdings — 173 stations serving 81 markets, or just under 40% of U.S. TV households — provide the core distribution for the multicast channels, and they are also sold syndication-style to station owners in non-Sinclair markets.

In January, Sinclair acquired the Tennis Channel for $350 million. The broadcast group was immediately able to use its negotiating clout with cable operators to drive better distribution deals for the indie cabler. Sinclair also has programming services devoted to regional college sports (American Sports Network) and wrestling (Ring of Honor) that air on its stations and in syndication.

The activity of the past year reflects a “strategic mandate for us to own more content,” said Scott Shapiro, Sinclair’s VP of corporate development. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking to do things a little bit differently. We’re trying to draw a bigger pool of audience.”

The TBD model was attractive to Sinclair because many of the digital content producers are already adept at working with brands to help monetize the programming. TBD  Sinclair’s channel portfolio, Shapiro said.

“Why not marry the power of television with what we find to be very compelling content,” Shapiro said. “This is different from what you might see on Comet or Tennis Channel. There’s a lot of interesting (programs) happening out there. There’s a lot of interesting vehicles we intend to explore.”

The streaming component of TBD will have more interactive elements built-in to the programming, Shapiro said.

Shapiro cited food- and travel-related programming as potential new verticles for Sinclair to explore.

The heightened activity around programming comes as Ripley takes taken the president-CEO reins from David Smith, the son of Sinclair founder Julian Smith. Smith had served as CEO since 1991. Ripley joined the company in 2014 as chief financial officer after a 12-year career as an investment banker with UBS’ Global Media Group.

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