Scripps Looks Beyond Television
Group’s vibrant local journalism outlets move ahead with 24/7 content model
Group’s vibrant local journalism outlets move ahead with 24/7 content model
is comprised of six ABC affiliates, three NBC stations, and an independent, in
major markets such as Detroit and Phoenix. Brian Lawlor, formerly the general
manager at Scripps' WPTV West Palm Beach, was named senior VP of its television
division in 2008.
who also keeps busy as chairman of the powerful NBC affiliates board, spoke
with B&C deputy editor Michael
Malone about how the Scripps stations live up to the company's big-time
journalism rep. An edited transcript follows.
words come to mind when you describe a Scripps station?
has been building what it calls the newsroom of the future. What's that look
started by looking at existing infrastructure to see if the way we were built
had us lined up to be truly 24/7 in a multiplatform, multi-screen world, and
the answer was no. We've been really busy the last three years rebuilding our
infrastructure, rethinking our roles, investing in technology that allow us to
more fluidly distribute content and reorienting our workforce to allow us to
collect more content, distribute more content, get deeper in our communities, and
tell stories on different platforms in different ways that would be more
engaging and more memorable.
hopes to charge users for premium content on station sites (Station to
Station, July 18). Will we see that
model in place this year?
don't know if it will be this year. We're doing a lot of research and looking
at that ecosystem and trying to figure it out. One thing that's obvious is that
people are willing to pay for content, but it's got to be exclusive, engaging
content that they can't get somewhere else for free. In order to set it up
properly, so that someone who's going to pay for content feels like they get
value, we want to make sure it's structured properly. So we are doing a pretty
deep dive on the model we think will create a pretty high level of consumer engagement.
But we're not going to rush it.
What does your research show people will pay for
online? Is it high-profile columnists, is it video?
I think there are a lot of things they'll pay for.
Engaging content-that can be columnists, it can be video. It can be
depth-taking stories beyond the level we traditionally do. Emotional content,
engaging content, a level of social experience around content where people dig
in or discuss at a deeper level. Research tells us a lot of elements will
engage somebody. But it's got to be personal and emotional so they'll be fully
committed to the content they'd be asked to pay for.
What do your broadcast peers say when you discuss a
I haven't talked to a lot of people in broadcasting
about it. I think it's something that's clearly getting a high level of
experimentation in the newspaper industry. Some are having some success, so a
logical mind would say, if people are willing to pay for content, a
video-centric experience also has a value proposition.
Scripps a keeper of its spectrum?
the plan for mobile DTV?
a member of MCV [Mobile Content Venture] and OMVC [Open Mobile Video Coalition].
We believe strongly in the opportunity-we think it's a great extension of what
we do now. We think it makes us more valuable in peoples' lives than we've ever
been because we're right there at their hip, able to inform and entertain and
engage them anytime, anywhere. By the end of the quarter we'll have four
stations launched on mobile and we'll continue to look for opportunities to
Are you concerned about what you're hearing
regarding broadcaster spectrum from the FCC?
Are you in D.C. much to state your case?
Yes. Representing Scripps, as a member of the NAB
board, and as president of the NBC affiliates board, I've been there a whole
lot. It's the No. 1 issue. We think our spectrum is critical to our ability to
serve our communities and distribute our product. We're protecting that and our
ability to inform people, especially at the times they need us most.
The exciting part is, with mobile technology, we can
serve communities at a level we never have been able to before. We just have to
make sure the FCC and others protect that opportunity for us, so that we can be
everything we've been and more for our consumers.
business looking for the rest of the year?
good. We had a very good first half-the lone hiccup was foreign automotive as a
result of the cutback of Japanese lines. Now that their factories are back in
production we expect them to come back to previous commitments, if not even
beefed up from there.
categories have been very strong. Political is starting to kick in in a couple
of states, maybe a little earlier and a little bit heavier than we expected. So
we remain very optimistic about the back half of the year.
Nexstar announced it was looking into selling its
stations recently. There's a good number of stations on the block-anything that
catches your eye and seems like a good fit for Scripps?
Obviously I can't comment specifically. We are
clearly looking at the station groups and individual stations that are up to
see if anything is a good fit for us. Our balance sheet is one of the best in
the business. That affords us the ability to make a move comfortably if we
found one that works for us. Like many other groups, our eyes are wide open,
looking for strategic opportunities right now.
Might Scripps sell stations?
That's probably not our priority.
The networks are pushing for a piece of station
retrans. Is it fair game, what they're asking for, or are they pushing too
I think they're being pretty aggressive in terms of
what they're looking for. Of course, everything is an individual negotiation.
Ultimately, the groups and the networks find a deal that works for them. I
understand and even support their need for a dual revenue stream. Then it's
really a matter of, what's that right value? They do bring value to our
television stations, that's undeniable. Our ability to garner retrans dollars
is increased by the fact that we're associated with a network and its
programming. It's just a matter of, what is that value? It's different based
upon individual companies' commitments to those stations.
I know there are many variables involved, but is a
network and a station a 50-50 partnership in terms of the value they offer?
I don't think so. But obviously networks have
different opinions on that. The dayparts they mostly program, they do provide
us value. The commitment we have to local news continues to be what drives the
brand of a television station. Typically, a news leader isn't necessarily
associated with the top primetime and top network news in a market. There are
decades of brand commitments and community commitments that make a station one of
the best, if not the best, in a market. Just because you're affiliated with a
certain network doesn't mean they should be enjoying 50% or 70% of the value
that you created over decades, with or without them.
Does Scripps have affiliation agreements coming up?
We're good for all of our affiliates for at least
the next four or five years.
Next year of course is going to be off the hook in
terms of political spending. Do you feel the Scripps stations are well
positioned to get that cash?
Yes, I definitely feel like we're well positioned
What else is going on for Scripps?
We're really trying to increase our commitment to
the quality of our journalism and the quality of our stories and the coverage
in our communities. The last couple of years, economic pressures really
challenged all of our television stations, but we continue to recognize that
our point of differentiation, where we become more relevant in the future, is
through the quality of our journalism.
If you look across our markets, we're doing really
interesting journalism that's challenging communities. The 10-year anniversary
of the race riots in Cincinnati took place last month. We took a month-long
look at that story, 30 stories in 30 days, breaking down every aspect of how
the community has changed in 10 years, can it happen again, from policing to
education to social awareness to community, how is Cincinnati a different city
today. We asked hard questions that really challenged the leaders to take a
hard look at the things that got the city to that point 10 years ago, and what
has changed. That was really powerful and engaging stuff. We had the
opportunity to bring business leaders and community groups together and watch
it and have an honest conversation about it. I think that's the role of our
In Detroit, we started a decade-long campaign called
Detroit 2020-it's a ten-year conversation in the community, bringing together
political leaders, government folks, business leaders, educators-all to one
place, our airwaves, where we can have conversations about the challenges of
Detroit and what's needed: how to set benchmarks, how to get there, how to hold
Who better to hold people accountable and get
answers for community and make the community better than our television
stations? We are really trying to use our stations to differentiate the lives
of people who live in those communities.