Sook: Station Mergers & Acquisitions in ‘6th or 7th Inning’

Retrans blackouts basically come down to three MSOs
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The torrid mergers and acquisitions that’s defined local broadcast over the past two years is in its “6th or 7th inning,” said Perry Sook, president and CEO, Nexstar, with some $1.5 billion in station properties potentially in play over the next two years. Nexstar itself, fresh off acquisitions of Communications Corp. of America and Grant Communications, among others, has $500 million in deals that it is currently considering.

Sook was speaking at the UBS Global Media Conference in New York Dec. 11. He said strategic and accretive acquisitions remain the “highest and best use” of the company’s earnings and balance sheet, and stressed that scale is not so much the goal as a byproduct of savvy acquisitions.

“I think there will be plenty of opportunity for acquisitions,” Sook said, of both TV stations and digital media properties.

Nexstar is on pace to do around $31-$32 million in digital business this year, he said, and wants to see that at $100 million in the next five years. New hire Tom O’Brien, former WNBC New York president and general manager, and now Nexstar’s executive VP of digital media and chief revenue officer, has the “hunting license,” Sook said, to make that happen.

The Nexstar chief was singled out by the moderator as a retrans pioneer. Sook said the MSOs are coughing up retrans cash more willingly than they used to. “It’s marginally easier to get multiple rate increases than it was to get that first dime in 2005,” he said.

With retrans-related blackouts becoming more common, Sook said that 90% of them involve the MSOs Dish Network, DirecTV and Time Warner Cable. “I don’t know that we have an industry problem as much as we have a company-specific problem,” he said.

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