Thanks to a growing concentration of Fox stations, Sinclair has been able to consistently outperform other local television broadcasting companies, Atorino said.
"They've got mostly Fox and CBS affiliates, and Fox and CBS have had the strongest ratings, particularly in prime time, and [Sinclair benefits] from that," Atorino said. "They are generally [No.] 1 and 2 in their markets. They have a diversified group of medium cities, and they don't compete against the big guys."
In January, Sinclair completed the purchase of Four Points Media for $200 million, including television stations in Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas; West Palm Beach, Fla.; Providence, R.I.; and New Bedford, Mass. In November, Sinclair bought eight television stations for $385 million from Freedom Communications, including two in the West Palm Beach market.
Smith said the company waited out the market and took advantage of inexpensive financing to acquire the television stations at what he called a fair price. And it's still looking for more.
Last year, the company banked on the popularity of wrestling when it acquired the Ring of Honor wrestling league. Sinclair now broadcasts weekly matches, some from the Du Burns Arena in Canton, to homes in 40 cities.
Owning and controlling the distribution of wrestling programs has enabled Sinclair to capture an attractive but often elusive viewership: young men. Ratings have been twice as strong as expected, said David Amy, a Sinclair executive vice president.
The company also stands to benefit this year from record levels of political advertising. An analysis by Wells Fargo early this year placed Sinclair near the top of the media industry in its ability to capitalize on hotly contested races.
Still, Sinclair has not been immune to the economic slump and the weakening of the advertising market. In July 2009, after the company was unable to restructure its debt, it said it might consider filing for bankruptcy protection.
Smith says now that Sinclair was never in financial distress.
"We had bank [notes] come due at the worst time in history," he said, explaining that the company could not refinance those loans but that later in the year it was able to restructure its balance sheet and improve cash flow.
Today, Sinclair is back on its feet and looking to broaden or add local news shows, for instance, expanding the Fox 45 local news program in the afternoon. Local news eventually will be broadcast live up to 12 hours a day in many markets, Smith said, a development driven partly by the proliferation of mobile devices.
As advertising revenue has begun to pick up, especially in the crucial auto industry sector, Smith remains convinced that live, real-time, local content is what consumers crave, whether at home or on the go, and that advertisers will follow those consumers.
And he thinks consumers will embrace mobile television.
"TV will be ubiquitous to every device in the marketplace," Smith said. "We'll be everywhere."
Sinclair Broadcast Group
History: Founded in 1986 by the four sons of UHF pioneer Julian Sinclair Smith, who had put WBFF-TV on the air in Baltimore in 1971 as the city's first UHF station and one of the first in the country.
First acquisition: WPGH-TV in Pittsburgh in 1991.
Number of properties: 74 television stations owned, operated, programmed or provided sales service.
Flagship station: WBFF Fox 45
Corporate offices: Hunt Valley
2011 annual revenue: $648 million from continuing operations
Source: Sinclair Broadcast Group