In a management realignment at Scripps last week, John Lansing, who had been head of the broadcast-TV stations, was switched to the company's cable networks unit as executive vice president and is on a track to take over management of that division.
Sources say Lansing is being groomed to eventually succeed Ed Spray, president of Scripps Networks. In the mean time, he will report to Spray, with the heads of the four cable networks—HGTV, Food Network, Fine Living and DIY—reporting to him.
Spray reportedly indicated to company chief Ken Lowe last year that he wants to retire sometime around the end of this year.
Lowe got Lansing to switch to the cable side after a 29-year career in broadcasting (now 46, he started at age 17 in the news department of a local station in Paducah, Ky.).
Lansing said he jumped at the chance: "Our company has great TV assets in broadcasting and, obviously with the Scripps Networks. I found this opportunity to be very appealing to come over here and learn about some of the successes [at the cable division] and be a part of the leadership going into the future."
The company declined to comment about any conversations Spray may have had about retiring. A spokeswoman characterized any discussion of that as speculative and "very premature."
Scripps Networks is the company's fastest-growing unit and internally projects that the cable networks will surpass newspapers as the company's biggest revenue and profit contributor in several years.
Sources say HGTV already contributes more revenue and profit than the company's entire 10-station TV group, the nation's 16th largest. Scripps stations reach almost 10% of the U.S.
According to the company's third-quarter earnings report, the cable networks posted $380 million in revenue for the first nine months of the year, up 28%, and a 67% gain in profit, to $138 million. The TV stations had revenue of $221 million, up 3% with a 4% drop in profit, but that was still seen as a solid performance, given that stations were able to equal all the political revenue raked in the previous year and then some.
Succeeding Lansing at the Scripps station group is Bill Peterson, who had been vice president and general manager at the company's WPTV(TV) West Palm Beach, Fla. Brian Lawlor, who had been general sales manager at Scripps's WCPO-TV Cincinnati, was tapped to succeed Lawlor at WPTV.
Reached last week, Peterson said he is "very excited and mildly terrified" at the prospect of taking on the new group responsibilities.
He'll be relocating to Cincinnati, where Scripps is based, in the spring. Lansing will relocate to Knoxville, Tenn., home of all the cable properties except Fine Living, in the next few months.
In December, Scripps said it expects the cable-networks unit to boost ad revenues in 2004 by 20%-30%, while affiliate fees may climb 30%-40%. With $35 million or so in political and incremental Olympic dollars this year, TV-station revenue should be up 10%-15%.