Sinclair's Chris Ripley on Merging Over-the-Air with Over-the-Top

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It's been a busy -- and public -- October for the chief overseer of Sinclair Broadcast Group, the nation's largest owner of television stations.  Wherever Chief Executive Officer Chris Ripley faced fellow media officials throughout the month, including keynote one-on-one interviews at Advertising Week NY and NAB Show New York, he came ready with a consistent message:  Sinclair has moved from stage one of its existence to stage two, encompassing widespread content and advertising delivery to smart TV sets, TV-connected devices and mobile.

"Television is and always will be a major pillar for every brand's advertising effort," Ripley (pictured below) declared a few minutes into his Advertising Week presentation.  "It will just evolve, and the people with the best user experiences will win.  The local broadcaster is the last bastion of local content, and we're out to evolve that."

At NAB Show NY, Ripley put the spotlight on Sinclair's most ambitious undertaking with local content as a principal source -- STIRR.  He toldattendees that STIRR, a multichannel programming service under development for some time, will launch soon.  Company officials describe STIRR as a "unique, ad-supported, free-to-consumer, over-the-top video service, offering a wide range of programming with a channel lineup not available on cable TV."  That lineup will include TV series, game and talk shows, sports, movies and web content.  Some channels will be linear, while others will be formatted on-demand.  The entire multichannel package will be available through connected TV devices, smartphones and other mobile products and on desktop at launch.  With smart TV's willing roll out later, "viewers can watch what they want, when they want and on any device they choose," according to material provided by Sinclair.

What may be STIRR's most notable feature is a curated channel located at the top of the TV dial that presents a mix of content supplied by other sources.  The mix would include live local newscasts and local programming from all over the U.S., with the viewer choosing the newscast that gets airplay.

"Our vision is centered on connecting people with content everywhere, which is really about being consumer-centric in our approach to delivering content," Ripley continued through post-NAB Show remarks.  "The growth of over-the-top is a clear statement by consumers about a way that a lot of them want to consume the content we create and distribute.  Today, Sinclair has some unique offerings in the OTT space and other initiatives that we will be bringing to market."

At Advertising Week he noted, "In the future, over-the-air will merge with over-the-top."

Under Ripley, Sinclair has undertaken several initiatives over the last few years to prep for the second stage the company is fostering now.  One is launching and distributing multicast channels (available on both the digital subcarrier space of TV stations and cable).  Four multicast services have national clearances -- Comet and Charge (science fiction and action-based, respectively, co-owned with MGM TV), Stadium (high school and college sports coverage with professional sports highlights) and TBD (the best of the web on linear television).  Earlier this month, Sinclair turned management of TBD over to digital content maker Jukin Media.

Ripley is also busy directing the company into smart TV set/connected device activity, ranging from Tennis Channel Plus, offering additional events and programs produced by Tennis Channel; CompulseOTT, the ad sales unit targeting smart TV set/device campaigns, and Facebook Watch. Between $6 and $8 billion is anticipated to be allocated by advertisers for these campaigns this year, with this marketplace expected to top $13 billion next year and $20 billion or more in 2020, according to various research sources.

"We set that group up to take advantage of the strength our local and national sales teams (possess), and the early results from that group are positive," Ripley added.

For sure, nowhere near last or least in priority among these pathways is Sinclair's participation in the rollout of ATSC 3.0, the advanced transmission model allowing TV stations to expand their offerings and the consumer experience.  Ripley ticked off five key benefits for his Advertising Week audience:  Mobile-friendly and portable standard, end-to-end internet protocol capabilities supporting a hybrid environment, conditional access with encryption to support direct-to-consumer subscription models, the ability to target advertising among a range of viewer demographics and geographic zoning, and four to five times more video capacity.

Through various spectrum consortium ventures, the industry has launched ATSC 3.0 in Phoenix and Dallas, with more markets to come in 2019.  Deployment is expected to take about three years, Ripley estimated.  "On the monetization strategy, it is still very early," he added in post-NAB comments.  "However, one of the benefits of 3.0 is that there are multitudes of various business models, of which connected TV ad revenue is just one."

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