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Sinclair sits pretty

Broadcaster planning more political programs

NEW YORK — Sinclair Broadcasting said its controversial program on John Kerry’s war record was hugely profitable for the company, so much so that it intends to produce more such shows from its centralized news operation near Baltimore.

Fewer ad spots were sold during “POW Story: Politics, Pressure and the Media,” which caused the outrage of liberal groups, but the ads sold at a higher rate. Ratings were higher for the show, and the uptick seems permanent.

“We made more revenue on that show than we would have otherwise across our platform,” said Sinclair topper David Smith. “The lesson learned is that the central news structure we’ve created has the capability of producing relevant content and we are convinced we can make more money in other dayparts.”

Sinclair Broadcasting caused a political firestorm last month when it announced it would air parts of anti-Kerry documentary “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal” as part of a show examining the Democratic nominee’s war record two weeks before the general election.

Kerry supporters and media fairness groups demanded equal time from Sinclair, which owns 62 TV stations across the country. Sinclair declined to give a pro-Kerry doc equal time but integrated parts of “Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry” into its broadcast.

During the controversy, Sinclair endured an advertiser boycott, thousands of calls flooding its switchboards and two threatened shareholders suits.

But Smith, a major Republican contributor, told analysts in a conference call that the publicity generated by the flap could be worth “tens of millions of dollars” in promotional value.

Ratings up across board

He said ratings were up across the station group as a result of the controversy. “My guess is we’re going to keep a lot of that, and the long-term value is going to be huge,” he said.

“POW Story” was the first broadcast of its kind produced by Sinclair’s centralized news operation, which pumps out news and commentary to Sinclair stations across the country.

But Smith said the news arm demonstrated an ability to generate good content and higher revenues, and “we expect to exploit that to the fullest on an ongoing basis.”

News is sure to inflame Sinclair’s critics, who say the station owner used the public airwaves for its own political agenda. But Smith says the majority of calls to the station group after the show said the documentary had been pro-Kerry. And Sinclair has the backing of First Amendment groups who may not all agree with the message, but say the free speech issue trumps any obligation to present balance. Smith said he expects deregulation to continue in President Bush’s second term. Sinclair’s business strategy is to squeeze costs out of the business by owning multiple stations in single markets.

“I don’t think the administration at this point is going to do anything,” he said. “The courts are in control of the entire process at this point.”

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