Sinclair bemoans lack of syndie fare

Chief asks for real shows, not reality

NEW YORK — Sinclair Broadcast Group prexy David Smith blames Hollywood for much of his station group’s woes, specifically citing declining studio advertising and a dearth of syndicated programming for unaffiliated stations.

“Movies have become a much more serious issue in terms of advertising,” Smith told analysts at the Bear Stearns media conference in Palm Beach, Fla.

Studio advertising dropped to 2% of Sinclair’s business in 2004 from 4% in 2003, taking $10 million off the table from the station group, which owns 62 stations reaching 24% of the United States.

Some of that shortfall has been made up by gambling, liquor, beer and wine ads. “Gambling ads are an evolving category,” Smith said, noting the increased popularity of Texas Hold ’em poker events.

The ad market is off to a shaky start for 2005, which is expected to be a down year after 2004, boosted by the Olympics and presidential elections.

But Smith said the greater threat to his stations’ stability is a lack of syndicated programming to fill schedules, especially at smaller, unaffiliated stations.

“Frankly, we’re running out of content. That’s a problem that needs to be solved across the industry, not just us,” Smith said. “We cannot print money off old shows that have a limited lifetime.”

With the networks and studios focused on unscripted skeins, local stations are running out of the movies and sitcoms that form the meat of their schedule. “Two and a Half Men” is coming on the market, but Smith noted the show “is no ‘Seinfeld,’ “Home Improvement’ or even ‘Andy Griffith.’

“Some significant broadcasters in major markets that own the fourth or fifth station in the marketplace are running the same show three or four times a day,” Smith said.

“The opportunity is for Hollywood to awaken and start producing content for the fourth, fifth and sixth television stations in a given market,” Smith said. “But I’m concerned that they’ve become so consolidated they don’t have the entrepreneurial spirit to produce that kind of product.”

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