Sinclair headline too good to be true

Abstract green cash pillsJust so you don’t have to, I subscribe to a dizzying list of news streams about broadcasting. In today’s NAB SmartBrief, I saw a headline that stopped me cold: “Feds could benefit more by letting broadcasters lease spectrum, says Sinclair exec”.

The first part of that headline agrees with what I’ve promoted for years. Broadcast spectrum is precious and finite, and it would be only appropriate for anyone using public airwaves to pay rent for the privilege. If the fee were based on a small percentage of advertising sales, then non-profits (who sell no ads) get a free pass but commercial stations get dinged.

The second part of the headline was the punchline. The Sinclair Broadcast Group is a publicly traded corporation that believes strongly in its fiduciary duty to maximize profits for its shareholders. It’s not afraid to make controversial political moves to make sure that happens. It’s not afraid to get into hard-fought retransmission disputes to make sure that happens. From all appearances, Sinclair would rather be profitable than loved. That’s why I was mystified that someone there would agree with my idea, which would benefit society as a whole at a cost of slightly reduced profits.

Then I clicked through to the original TVNewsCheck article, which included an interview with Mark Aitken, Sinclair’s vice president of advanced technology. Aitken’s proposal is for stations to take some of their allotted bandwidth and lease it to wireless carriers. He says, “Currently, broadcasters are obliged to pay 5% of their revenue from supplying auxiliary data services. When you look at the immense capacity that broadcasters could make available to carriers, it adds up to big dollars in revenues for broadcasters and, as a result, big dollars for the U.S. Treasury.”

So rather than paying a tax on the bandwidth that stations use, the plan is for them to take the bandwidth they’re getting for next to nothing, lease it to a third party, then pocket 95% of the rent? Now that sounds more like a Sinclair Broadcast Group proposal!

What would make a better headline for that plan? Leave a comment if you’ve got a good one.