Broadcasting's Voice of ReasonStrong stations, affiliate board leaderships make Fiorile best of the bunch 9/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
While some difficult
network-affiliate negotiations dominated the broadcasting business in the
recent past, the calm and reasoned perspective of Dispatch Broadcast Group vice
chairman and CEO Michael Fiorile, who is also vice chair of the CBS affiliate
board and a director of the NBC affiliates board, helped get everyone marching
in lockstep. Commanding deep respect from both his affiliate colleagues and the
network execs across the table, Fiorile played a key role in getting both sides
working together for broadcasting's greater good.
And during a year marked by major consolidation, Fiorile and his Dispatch
Broadcast Group bucked the trend. Dispatch owns just two stations- WTHR
Indianapolis and WBNS Columbus (Ohio)-but both are monsters in their markets
that have solidified their top spots in 2012.
On a recent visit to New York, Fiorile, B&C's 2012 Broadcaster of
the Year, spoke with deputy editor Michael Malone about the busy current year and
the challenging year ahead.
What was your highlight this year?
Certainly the elections took a lot of our focus, a lot of our time-fortunately,
in terms of inventory management, but also in news coverage. We consider
ourselves at the Dispatch companies to be locally focused, so elections are
really, really important for us. We are owned by a family and we're privately
held, so both for the community and for our owners, we want to make sure we are
doing our utmost to cover the elections.
This morning, on my flight, I sent an email to our general managers reminding
them that I assume the networks will cover as much as they can, but if they
don't, we have to find other sources to deliver election coverage.
What was a Dispatch news story that really crystallized what the group is
We did a very important piece on pharmacies not shredding records and loading
dumpsters with prescriptions, renewals and their total disregard for patient
privacy. That made some noise. We had a very enterprising reporter who did some
dumpster-diving at a pharmacy and came across a ton of information. It got some
of the larger drug chains to enact shredding policies they didn't have
previously, or had but had been lax about.
There have been tough battles between networks and affiliates in recent
years, but it has been quiet of late. Are those in the past, or are they just
not made public?
More than anything else, in any business, that's about a lack of communication.
The affiliates need to make their case constantly and strongly to the
networks-what they need, what they don't need-and sometimes it's harder to be
heard than at other times. If the affiliates are well-represented by a
responsive affiliate board, and the affiliate board is direct and makes sure
its message is heard, I don't see problems. It's a challenge at times, either
on the network or affiliate end, when somebody's not communicating. My
experience with NBC and CBS-I think relations there are pretty good. Not that
there won't be issues.
What did you think of NBC's Summer Olympics coverage?
I thought it was outstanding. Just outstanding. The Games exceeded affiliates'
expectations. That's why we bought the ad. [Fiorile points to a full-page ad in
The New York Times that the NBC affiliates bought to thank the network.]
Ratings exceeded affiliates' expectations. The financial returns for stations
and the network were tremendous.
What's interesting, and we'll have to study why it was a success, but my sense
is, online is not hurting [Olympics viewing]. Perhaps it helps. The networks
have been telling us that for years. We didn't want to believe it, and they
While political ads are pouring in now, how do you prepare for what looks
like a down year in 2013?
We very carefully manage our expenses even in the bountiful years of political
spending. I would imagine there will be more than $25 million in political at
our Columbus station. A market can't find that in regular business. You just
manage your expenses. You don't take this for granted, you don't plan on it for
In this era of station group consolidation, is it harder to exist with
just two stations?
It really hasn't been for us. We have terrific relationships
with the networks, with syndicators, our rep firm. In a world of consolidation
and, in some cases, highly leveraged operators, we find it easy to recruit
people. And when we get people, we find it easy to hold onto them. Our stations
are very dominant in both markets. So if there's a new offering, a new
syndicated show, a new service, we're often visited before the other stations
in spite of our competitors being part of much larger groups. It hasn't been
the challenge that you would think it would be, fortunately. We have great
managers and great relationships.
Besides good recruiting and retention, what else goes into being a
You really have to be local. You really have to pay attention
to the market you operate in. You have to be first with news, you have to cover
it more in-depth, you have to cover more sides of story, you have to be better.
You have to not be bashful about breaking in with news. We do a good amount of
news specials in primetime as warranted. You really have to pay attention to
local. That's the most important thing.
And we invest. I'm fortunate to work for a company that's
not highly leveraged. And we invest-heavily-in the news product. In Columbus,
we're the only station with a helicopter. We have no plans to get out of the