Sens. Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have gotten together to criticize the acquisition of 21 regional sports networks by Sinclair Broadcast Group, asking what the FCC and the Justice Department might be doing about it.
The sports channels, which televise major professional and college sports to regional audiences, came up for sale as a condition of the Disney acquisition of what had been Fox assets.
“It is clear that Sinclair has an explicit interest in, and commitment to, relaying partisan political messages to its viewers — making its recent anti competitive expansion attempts into millions of additional households all the more concerning,” the senators wrote.
Democrats, including the three 2020 presidential hopefuls, have been critical of Sinclair’s use of must-air segments featuring conservative commentary in their local newscasts in stations across the country.
Booker, Sanders and Warren mention favorable coverage of President Donald Trump on Sinclair-owned stations as part of their cause for alarm, but they also focus on potential effects on pricing of popular sports programming.
“The RSNs Sinclair purchased from Disney — collectively ‘the largest group of commonly controlled RSNs’ — reach approximately 74 million subscribers across the country and have the rights to telecast the games of almost half of all the professional sports teams in three of the four major American sports leagues,” Warren, Sanders and Booker wrote in joint a letter dated Monday.
The senators wrote to both Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and the assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division, Makan Delrahim, to express their concerns about the possible for increased costs to cable and satellite consumers.
“Sinclair, which now owns nearly two dozen RSNs, could market to distributors combinations of sports and local television channels that they have to offer to consumers as a bundle package,” the senators wrote. “Distributors understand the value of live sports and the limited number of un-bundled live sport streaming options available to consumers leave ‘sports fans ... tethered to their cable bundle,’” the three senators explained. “Therefore, the agreement with Disney offers Sinclair an opportunity to charge consumers more by packaging their cable and broadcast programs.”
The senators are requesting that they be notified no later than July 8 whether Disney or the Sinclair has applied with the Justice Department and the FCC for the approval of the transfer, which could lay the groundwork further questions and a public review.
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