Variety spoke with one of media’s most important executives right now, but one who perhaps few outside of the local news industry may be familiar with: Nexstar Media Group CEO Perry Sook.
On Dec. 3, Sook’s Nexstar Media Group bought Tribune Media for $6.4 billion, including debt. It’s a deal will make the Dallas-based Nexstar–which presently owns or operates 171 stations across the U.S., most of which are broadcast affiliates in small to medium-sized DMAs–the largest owner of local TV stations in the U.S. with more than 200 stations that cover about 39 percent of TV homes. The deal will also give the company a presence in America’s three largest markets for the first time: New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Nexstar was able to swoop in and strike the deal with the Chicago-based company after Tribune’s deal with Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group was terminated in August amid concerns from the Federal Communications, led by FCC commissioner (and Trump appointee) Ajit Pai, who said the conservative-skewing Sinclair breached its contract by misleading regulators during the transaction’s approval process.
Sook told Variety that Nexstar is bracing for what will surely be a long regulatory review of the Tribune acquisition. He says fully aware of the 15-month Sinclair-Tribune dealmaking process that resulted in disaster, and claims Nexstar is ready to make necessary divestitures to comply with FCC rules — something Sinclair failed to do.
So, who is Sook? Well, he’s a Northeast Pennsylvania native who actually got his start as a radio DJ in Punxsutawney, Pa., and later briefly worked as a news anchor in Clarksburg, WV. But he was drawn to the sales side of the business. He worked for Cox and the national advertising sales rep firm Telerep. Sook founded Nexstar in 1996 with one station in Scranton.
He’s a local media lifer.
Variety’s Cynthia Littleton writes that Wall Street is bullish on the deal, for now:
Sook maintains that Nexstar’s strategy is to stay laser-focused on local needs — a function that is vital at a time when the biggest traditional media companies are adjusting to the new competitive pressures from the FAANG digital giants. Wall Street has been generally positive on the Nexstar-Tribune nuptials, sending the stock up 12% on deal rumors in late November, although share prices have fallen along with the broader market in recent weeks.
Sook, who presently owns 8 percent of Nexstar, says the company has no desire to launch a national network and no plan for a broad-based streaming platform.
“We have no aspirations to be a national anything,” Sook says. “Our company goes from Burlington, Vermont to Honolulu and each of those communities have different needs and different tastes. We do three things that are vitally important: We produce local news content. We deliver entertainment and information. And we help local businesses sell stuff. Those are our reasons to exist.”
Needless to say, it’s a risky time for all types of media, especially local. But Sook says he’s prepared:
Sook recognizes the challenges facing local TV stations, which remain highly dependent on local advertising dollars that are subject to the cyclical economic tides. Competition from alternative cable and streaming outlets has dented ratings across all of broadcast TV. But well-managed local stations with strong news operations still enjoy healthy profit margins, Sook maintains. So Nexstar wants to be the undisputed king of local media.