Plenty of broadcasters lament the ailing state of local TV these days, and with good reason. Robb Richter, on the other hand, sees loads of upside. LIN TV's senior VP of new media knows that station groups are hungry to tap as much revenue as possible from their digital business, and he feels he's in a good spot to deliver it.
Richter recently got the last of the LIN stations' mobile news applications into the iTunes Store, and is touting the merits of digital media to local marketers as part of his Business Builder Seminars. He's also overhauling the politically themed sites in the 17 LIN markets to best attract eyeballs—and revenue—for 2010.
Richter, 39, says it's a fine time to be in local media. “If you like change, this is a great time for our business,” he says. “If you don't, you're not having much fun right now.”
The Minnesota native didn't initially envision a career in television. Richter's first post-college job was managing the entertainment venues, including a Planet Hollywood and numerous bars and restaurants, at the massive Mall of America just outside Minneapolis. From there he shifted to a newspaper consulting firm, then to sales and marketing at ShopNBC from 2001 to 2006.
When he came on board at LIN, Richter says the toughest part was uprooting his family (his wife Tina is also from the Twin Cities) to LIN headquarters in Providence, R.I. Instead of finding a home in a typical suburb, the Richters chose the quaint fishing village of Saunderstown, on the state's southeast coast. “We decided, if we were going to live in New England, we'd live the right way,” he says, “in an area you definitely don't get in the Midwest.”
Richter inherited a rudimentary batch of Websites representing the likes of WISH Indianapolis and WAVY Norfolk. He says the strategic plan for the sites was hatched in late 2007. This past October, LIN switched content management systems to Fox Interactive Media (FIM), which Richter says gives the stations increased flexibility to make the sites their own.
The master plan is just now coming to fruition. “It's been a process,” he says. “It takes commitment from our board, our CEO, our general managers—that this is our vision, and we're going to grow this.”
The vision includes the iPhone applications, on which LIN partnered with News Over Wireless; they are available free through iTunes for all of LIN's news stations. The apps give users local newscasts in the palm of their hand. “Our goal is to have as close to a 24/7 relationship with the viewer as possible,” Richter says.
While some station group execs speak of mobile's tremendous potential, Richter has made it happen. “You constantly hear people in the media say, this is what we should be doing,” says Magid Media Labs Executive Director Jaime Spencer. “Every so often, you look up, and Robb's the one who's doing it.”
Next up is an overhaul of the political sites, such as Indianapolitics.com, and a second go-round of his Business Builder Seminars in each market. LIN invites potential advertisers to the sessions, where LIN's new-media director and its new-media director of sales explain the nuances (and benefits) of digital and mobile marketing. Richter describes it as more of a community service than a sales pitch (though it does spark substantial new business). He's also working on a video search engine for the Websites, a new weather program, and a “big idea” that he says is similar to the Gannett/Tribune-owned local Metromix franchise, but not focused on entertainment.
When he's not working, Richter is likely coaching baseball or soccer for his kids, who are 9, 7 and 2. “It forces me to not spend quite as much time in the office,” he says.
The rest of the time, he's focused on pushing LIN's digital game plan. The company's digital revenues were up 95% in 2008, and climbed another 82% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the first quarter of 2008.
That's vital for the company's growth. “To effectively develop and mass-produce and distribute content on multiple platforms, you need people who understand and are excited about the opportunity,” says LIN Executive VP Scott Blumenthal. “Robb is perfect for the job.”