With 1Q 2017 revenues up 12%, and regulatory changes that could fuel the group’s expansion, things are looking up for Sinclair Broadcast Group, the company said in announcing its earnings Wednesday.
Total revenues for the three months ending March 31 rose to $649.9 million, versus $578.9 million in the prior year period, the company said. Media revenues accounted for $602 million of that, a 13% increase from 1Q 2016. Digital revenue was 25% higher than it was the year before.
The news comes amid reports that Sinclair is vying for an acquisition of Tribune Media, going up against a joint offering by 21st Century Fox and the equity firm Blackstone. According to Bloomberg, bids for Tribune, which Nexstar also wants, are due on Thursday. If Sinclair buys Tribune, it would own 28% of the country's Fox affiliates—more than any other station group.
There was no mention of Tribune in Sinclair’s earnings call.
However, CEO and president Chris Ripley said that, with the end of the FCC auction and easing of ownership caps, “it is a buyers’ market.” In-market opportunies will likely grow as well with further deregulation, he said.
“Those I think will start in earnest once local ownership rules get relaxed this year,” he said. In-market acquisitions through purchases or station swaps could provide significant cost savings for broadcasters, he said.
“We are just focussed at the end of the day in doing accretive transactions,” he said.
In April, Sinclair struck a deal to purchase Bonten Media and Cunningham Broadcasting for $240 million, adding 14 stations in eight markets to its footprint.
"2017 is shaping up to be a pivotal year with the FCC's recent reinstatement of the UHF discount, expected approval of ATSC 3.0 (Next Generation Broadcast Platform), and much needed modernization of antiquated broadcast regulations. Positive movements by the FCC on these fronts will allow us, among other things, to better serve our local communities through increased investment in local news and other quality local programming," executive chairman David Smith said in a statement.
"In anticipation of ATSC 3.0's approval, we have been laying the groundwork for development of a nationwide network, design of 3.0 chipsets, and will be testing single frequency network technology and advanced business models later this summer. The Next Gen technology will transform how we interact with consumers and allow us to implement value-enhancing business models as the convergence and emergence of alternative platforms and companies proliferate."
Sinclair also reported that during the first quarter:
- Operating income was $157.6 million, including a gain of $53.0 million on the sale of Alarm Funding Associates (Alarm), an increase of 82.6%, versus operating income of $86.3 million in the prior year period.
- Net income attributable to the company was $57.2 million, versus net income of $24.1 million in the prior year period. Excluding the gain on the sale of Alarm (a security funding company), net income attributable to the company would have been $30.0 million.
- Diluted earnings per common share were $0.61, $0.32 excluding the gain on the sale of Alarm, as compared to $0.25 in the prior year period.
Sinclair said it expects the second quarter of this year to be fruitful as well.
Media revenues, before barter, are expected to be approximately $627.3 million to $633.3 million, up 3.5% to 4.5% year-over-year. That figure includes political money dropping to $2.4 million from $16.7 million in 2Q 2016.