Monday, December 19, 2016

Guest Blogger Stephan Sloan: Tournament Television

The Incentive Auction is looking more like a tournament than an auction to me.

In the early stages of the Incentive Auction the perception of winning this tournament, that is receiving more value for your television license than it was otherwise worth, was probable for many stations. Licensees who were allowed to participate piled in to the contest and expected a victory. This behavior can be seen as the success of the opening bid prices and the distribution accomplished by the FCC and the Greenhill Report.

Like in tournaments, participants’ assessment of victory evolves as time elapses. The huge spread between the Stage 1 Clearing Target and Net Auction Proceeds was a strong indication to competitors that multiple stage progressions would be likely to close that gap. Many models pointed towards Stage 4 as the first opportunity for validation.

For a participant, anticipation of a Stage 4 result yields a radically different expectation of winning both in terms of probability and magnitude. It can be modeled that 270+ fewer stations are frozen by Stage 4 and the amounts paid to the winning licensees is reduced by more than 70%. The tournament by Stage 4 is a different contest. Without confidence, the Incentive Auction of Stage 4 does not create hope for winning but raises the question what does loosing look like?

I believe that as the stages have progressed many television station owners have turned away from further assessment of their reserve price (a metric for winning) and have focused instead on post Incentive Auction plans. To illustrate this point, Stage 1 results promised each of two or more duopoly owners in a market a winning scenario of each of them freezing one station in the auction and receiving a generous sum of money, participation in the tournament is rational. After the auction, each of the duopoly owners could be winners and the competitive landscape in the market would remain as each duopoly would likely now be represented by a single station (and a large bag of cash).

Stage 4 likely presents asymmetric results where all of the stations offered by the duopoly operators would not be needed. Outcomes include some duopolies remaining intact while another may freeze a station. Is a definition of winning being the only duopoly to freeze and facing post Incentive Auction competition with half the bandwidth of the competition (and a smaller bag of cash)? Pricing this scenario is complicated as well where reserve prices become relative to the competition rather than a function of enterprise value.

How do you like the tournament so far?

Stephan Sloan
Director, Media Services Group