Hilton Howell calls 2015 a “year of great achievement” for Gray Television, and that’s no hyperbole. Gray had already bought nine stations before inking a deal last month to acquire Schurz Communications’ TV and radio stations for $442.5 million.
“They clearly made a decision that they needed to get bigger,” says Todd Schurz, president and CEO of Schurz Communications. “They executed on a plan quickly and aggressively and effectively.”
Howell, Gray’s president and CEO, says he has simply stuck to the company’s playbook, which includes market and journalistic presence, advertising growth, community involvement and return on investment. Gray also looks to have clusters of small- and mid-size markets close to each other to leverage each other’s resources.
“It’s always part of the equation to get bigger, but get bigger to stations similar to us culturally,” he says.
Howell cites Gray’s “community focus” as a reason for the success of this year’s deal, and why companies like Schurz Communications go to Gray directly and speak with the company exclusively. Kevin Latek, senior VP, business affairs, says the longest of the negotiations was just two weeks.
Schurz Communications approached Gray at the beginning of the summer. Howell says they talked throughout the summer and by Labor Day, it was clear they were looking at an acquisition. A week later, the deal was completed.
“We had a very smooth transaction,” Howell says. “They’re the type of station that fits the Gray profile.”
Schurz says he has seen the way Gray does business and admires it. “I respect an organization that sets out on a path and then successfully executes and implements that plan,” he says. As such, he feels comfortable selling his company’s stations to Gray.
“He knows where he wants to take the company and is committed to it and its employees and communities and shareholders and all the stakeholders,” Schurz says. “They have bought judiciously, they have reinvested in stations and generally kept or improved their relative position. They did not sacrifice the quality of the group.”
Howell expects M&A activity to pick up in the latter part of 2016. In the meantime, he hopes to continue to grow the business with technology. He says Gray was the first broadcast group to have apps online on the Apple store and Google Play.
“We’re bringing those technologies to communities that hadn’t seen them before,” Howell says. “We move fast.”