Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. has formed a joint venture with a company owned by former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner to create, produce and distribute first-run syndicated television shows.
Sinclair and the Tornante Co. announced the deal Monday to immediately start developing talk shows, game shows, court shows and comedy programs. Sinclair also announced another deal later Monday to launch a science fiction network with MGM.
The venture is part of Hunt Valley-based Sinclair's growing strategy to own more of the TV content it shows on the sprawling array of television stations it owns across the country. Sinclair is one of the largest broadcasters in the U.S. with 162 television stations that air 376 channels in 79 markets and has affiliations with all the major networks.
Tornante Television will oversee creative development for programs that will be launched and distributed through Sinclair's TV stations and distributed elsewhere. The joint venture will be half-owned by subsidiary Sinclair Television Group Inc. and half by Tornante, owned by Eisner.
After meeting with Sinclair executives, "it was immediately clear that they had a vision for the future of broadcasting," Eisner said in the announcement. "Our intent is to pair our expertise in developing content with their distribution capabilities to create tremendous new opportunities for both parties."
David Smith, Sinclair's president and CEO, called Eisner's impact on the television industry "legendary — having brought us many of our nation's most treasured programs for over four decades and counting."
Sinclair has expanded rapidly in recent years, mainly through acquisitions, and now wants to own more of the non-network and non-news content it airs. The broadcaster plans to expand distribution of the new programs beyond its own stations, by selling syndication, foreign rights, cable TV or subscription services, said Steve Pruett, Sinclair's co-chief operating officer.
"By owning content, we can create other revenue streams," Pruett said.
About 60 percent of Sinclair's advertising revenue comes from syndicated shows and local news, while about 28 percent comes from network programming, "which underscores how [Sinclair] is able to control more of its destiny than we might have thought," Marci Ryvicker, a senior analyst with Wells Fargo, had said in a report earlier this month.
The independent, Los Angeles-based Tornante Television, owned by Tornante Co., created the adult animation comedy "BoJack Horseman" on Netflix and court reality show "Judge Faith," syndicated in partnership with Trifecta Entertainment and Media.
Sinclair licenses the "Judge Faith" program in more than 35 of its markets and has commissioned the show for a second season that will debut in September.
The broadcaster has been moving more aggressively into producing original content besides local news. This year, Sinclair reached a multiyear deal with the Atlantic 10 Conference to televise at least 52 events for seven sports on American Sports Network, the Sinclair-owned college sports network that shows live football, basketball, soccer and other sports and was launched at the start of last year's college football season.
In the other programming-related partnership announced Monday, Sinclair Television and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer said they will launch a new 24-hour, seven-day-a-week science fiction, multichannel network. It will feature more than 1,500 hours of MGM science fiction films, television movies and TV series such as "Stargate," "Poltergeist," and "Outer Limits." Sinclair will own the network, to debut in the fourth quarter in just under a third of the United States, and MGM will handle programming.
"MGM has an extensive collection of science fiction films and television movies that appeal to a vast audience who will now be able to access that content through broadcast television," said David Amy, Sinclair's chief operating officer, in the announcement.
Pruett said the content ownership strategy is part of Smith's vision for Sinclair, and is closely tied to the broadcaster's One Media initiative, a joint investment launched this year with Coherent Logix to develop high-definition TV viewing for mobile and portable devices.
Sinclair and Tornante began discussions about six months ago. Based in Los Angeles, Tornante-Sinclair LLC will work with Tornante's co-president, Lauren Corrao, to develop projects for the 2016 broadcast season.
"The Tornante people really impressed us with their talent and drive" and will bring "a different mindset to look for things that are new and different," Pruett said. "Michael Eisner built Disney from a theme park company into a mass entertainment conglomerate. He obviously has the skill to think about things differently."
Shares of Sinclair were down 66 cents to close at $27.62 Monday on the Nasdaq.