Local TV

At Cox, Independence Gets the Job Done

Hoffman sees consistency, continuity and community as keys to success 1/16/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

At a Glance: Cox Media Group

Top Execs:

Doug Franklin, president; Alexander C. Taylor, executive VP; Bill Hoffman, executive VP; Neil Johnston, executive VP and CFO

Public or Private:

Private

U.S. Coverage:

10.4%

Number of Stations:

15 TV stations, one local cable channel, 86 radio stations

Locations:

Based in Atlanta; stations include WSB Atlanta, WSOC Charlotte and KTVU San Francisco- Oakland

Website:

CoxMedia-Group.com

Last year, Bill Hoffman was upped from general manager at
WSB Atlanta to executive VP at parent Cox Media Group, overseeing
the company’s 15 TV stations, along with its radio and
newspaper properties.

Hoffman has a varied batch of stations to oversee, representing large
markets and small, and the gamut of affiliations, as well independents.
Hoffman, who also serves as ABC affiliates board chairman, spoke with
B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about the
fiercely independent streak that drives many of
Cox’s market-leading TV outlets.

How has your transition been to group
manager?

Your lens changes quite a bit, from walking in
in the morning to a big operation where there’s
the sales buzz and newsgathering and people
doing it all around you, to an elevated perch
where a lot of how you’re getting your information
about what’s happening is just numbers—
what the ratings were that day, how audience
and revenue share are doing. You have to reach
out to have more high-touch contact to find out
the same things you knew were going on when
you ran a station. You’re not able to be that intimate,
so you’re looking to fi nd those important
touchstones so you know how the health of the
operation is, which goes beyond numbers.

What words come to mind that define Cox’s stations?

We’re not the biggest group, but the 15 stations we have across the web
of different markets tend to be very high performers on the revenue
side as far as share of business. They are dedicated to their community.
There’s continuity as far as sales and news leadership. We don’t have a
lot of turnover, which is nice because you can work on perfecting execution
instead of changing the playbook year after year for new managers.
We tend to be news leaders regardless of affiliation, which I think is a
statement about how we super-serve our community. I’m just really
proud of the news product we make available in every market.

While running WSB Atlanta, you were adamant about not joining
the local content share with your competition. Does that
mindset hold now at the group level?


Yes. I say that with a caution flag, because you don’t know what tomorrow
brings. I hope we don’t go through that tough of a valley as we did a couple
years ago. We certainly have been tested. If ever there was a time to put it
into consideration, it was then. But we didn’t do it. We didn’t do furloughs.
I’m really proud that we went that route and kept our portfolio of stations
in great shape. I’m grateful we decided stay the course of independence and
keep hold of some of our prize possessions, like helicopters.

How are the Cox stations poised to get political cash this year?

That gets into a real interesting conversation, because it’s been ballyhooed
by so many pundits that this is the year of the big spend. What
we hear right behind that is that it might be really, really, really deep,
and narrow. The markets in play get a lot of
money—it’s saturation bombing there. Other
markets might not get as much—there might
be a concession that the market is not worth
the investment because [the candidates] don’t
have the wherewithal to win.

History has shown that Ohio, Pennsylvania
and Florida have been key in the past, and we
have strong properties there. The rest of the
stations, it’s hard to tell at this point.

How does your role as head of the ABC
affiliates board help the Cox group?

We’ve got very strong ABC affiliates in Orlando,
Charlotte and Atlanta. As good things get done
with ABC, that strengthens our ABC stations,
and that’s good for our portfolio at Cox, because
those are three large markets. I also think it’s just
fighting the good fight for local broadcasters,
in the way we lobby lawmakers, make calls on
the FCC, stay plugged in on policy issues, and
on many fronts actually hold hands with the network and join together
to fight to keep local broadcasters alive and strong and our business
model functioning well.

Is Cox a keeper of its broadcast spectrum?

We’re a strong advocate of keeping.

What is your concern level regarding Washington and spectrum?

We’re taking nothing for granted. We know the people on the other
side, the telcos, lobby hard for their business position. We respect that,
and we hope the center of our argument is public service. How many
times do we have to see a tsunami, a killer tornado, a devastating hurricane—
another constant reminder that, if there was a mobile handheld
device that could warn people to protect property and guard lives—isn’t
that worth it? We say yes.

As
you visited the Cox stations around the country, what was something you saw
that stuck out in your mind?

I've
been with the company a long time, and what continues to be true is every
single market has its different nuances, its different competitive feel, and it's
important to spend time to get to know all those little nuances. Because you can't
stereotype every single strong ABC or Fox station as facing the same adversity
and challenge in their marketplace. They live and breathe differently in the
market they're in.

How
are Cox's plans for mobile DTV going?

We
are bullish on that business. We've been aggressive and very involved in our
relationship with [the Open Mobile Video Coalition] and Pearl [Mobile DTV Co.] and
the development of the technology and the considerations of the business model.
We're very bullish on sustaining a viable business platform for the future.

Will
it be a viable business this year?

It's
hard to stay. Stay tuned: Some newsworthy press releases will come off of the CES
convention [Jan. 10-13]. I think you're going to see some things that will push
more life and give a quicker timetable on things.

Might
Cox buy or sell stations this year?

As
you know we've not been a player on the buying side, and we have not floated
any properties out there to sell. We like the TV business. We really just haven't
put energy into making our television footprint bigger. We've spent most of our
looking-forward exercises on what we can do to expand our opportunities in the digital
area.

What's
the status of your affiliation agreements?

Right
now, our affiliation agreements are in good standing. We're proud that our Fox
stations are Fox stations, that our NBC stations are NBC stations; we try to be
active on the operating boards of those affiliates. We like a cross-section of
affiliates-we think it's healthy for us to have a little of everything.

Are
the networks fair in their demands for a big piece of local broadcasters'
retrans cash?

I
really don't want to comment, because retrans negotiations vary group to group
and station to station. We understand that that's part of the new world.

If
you take political out of the equation, how's 2012 looking?

It's
too early to tell. I think the only category that has people optimistic is the
No. 1 category in our business [automotive]. But it's not the only one, so you can't
take my answer as litmus test that everything is going to be good. But it sure
feels like the automotive category should be well up over 2011.

What
are you watching on TV?

I
love that sitcoms are coming back across all of television. I think that's real
healthy. It's good entertainment because you come home at night, you had a
tough day, you lean back and forget about the troubles of the day and get a good
hearty laugh in. Those shows do well in repeats. I like what they bring to the syndication
market, supplying independents with viable programming options for their
important 6-8 or 5-7 p.m. early fringe blocks. We went through a long-time gap where
there just wasn't enough sitcoms coming out-successful ones, anyway. I think
all the networks have great examples of sitcoms going on.

Which
ones give you a hearty laugh?

I
think ABC has the funniest one with Modern
Family
. It's wonderfully written and the cast is fabulous.

E-mail
comments to
mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him
on Twitter:
@BCMikeMalone

At a Glance: Cox Media Group

Top Execs:

Doug Franklin, president; Alexander C. Taylor, executive VP; Bill Hoffman, executive VP; Neil Johnston, executive VP and CFO

Public or Private:

Private

U.S. Coverage:

10.4%

Number of Stations:

15 TV stations, one local cable channel, 86 radio stations

Locations:

Based in Atlanta; stations include WSB Atlanta, WSOC Charlotte and KTVU San Francisco- Oakland

Website:

CoxMedia-Group.com

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