Local TV giant Sinclair Broadcast Group launches free streaming bundle

The service is ad-supported and will include on-demand news and entertainment programming.
Image: Sinclair Broadcasting Corporation
The headquarters of the Sinclair Broadcast Group in Hunt Valley, Maryland.Win McNamee / Getty Images file

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By Claire Atkinson

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the owner of more than 190 TV stations across the country, is introducing its own version of the digital bundle.

The company on Wednesday launched STIRR, an internet-delivered streaming TV service that will include digital versions of Sinclair’s local stations alongside a variety of other channels including NASA TV, Outdoor America, business channel Cheddar, and the World Poker Tour. Sinclair will also offer its own STIRR-branded digital channels.

The service is free and supported by advertising, and will include on-demand news and entertainment programming.

The company said its bundle, which will reach 50 channels by the end of the year, offers viewers the chance to consumer local content from across the U.S.

“It doesn’t matter what city you live in,” said Adam Ware, general manager of STIRR. “In L.A., you could watch the Seattle station.”

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The stations are being encouraged to produce local content about their cities for the service, but when local programming isn’t live on air, Sinclair has selected is own lineup of content to replace whatever is being carried by their TV network partners. The service will not stream primetime network broadcast shows.

Ware said a national digital news channel was not in the company’s immediate future.

“It’s not in the plans, but doesn’t mean we may not, one day,” Ware said.

The service could further expand Sinclair’s already sizable U.S. reach. The company, which serves most major U.S. market, has come under fire from media watchdogs who claim it pushes conservative viewpoints into its local news broadcasts.

STIRR will compete for attention with a growing number of streaming services and digital bundles. On Monday, NBCUniversal announced that it would launch a streaming service in 2020, while Disney and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are expected to launch services sometime this year.

Sinclair’s effort to make local TV stations available across the country is something of a first for a local media owner. The initiative comes after Sinclair’s merger with TV station owner Tribune Broadcasting ran into regulatory problems, ultimately falling apart, with Tribune saying it would sue Sinclair for $1 billion.

In the Tribune merger, Sinclair had planned to create a rival to Fox News, according to several reports.

Fox News launched its own streaming service, Fox Nation, in November.

Sinclair also has plans to expand in the news and sports arena. It is reportedly a bidder for the regional sports channels being sold by Disney and Fox. The company already owns the Tennis Channel and will provide a tennis-oriented digital network called “The T” as part of its bundle.

Sinclair's politics have been the subject of widespread coverage since it required anchors to read from “must-run” segments that critics claim have a conservative bent. Last year, the company issued a widely panned video criticizing CNN. One must-run segment in November, featuring former Trump campaign surrogate Boris Epshteyn, defended the use of tear gas on migrants at the border.