The view for newly minted top 10 station group Media General at its Investor Day meeting in mid-March was, both literally and metaphorically, grand. Vincent Sadusky, the new president/CEO following Media General’s merger with $1.6 billion-valued LIN, addressed investors from the 62nd floor of the Empire State Building, mentioning how he’d previously been atop the New York landmark with his grandfather as a child. Jump ahead to 2015, and the new Media General—growing, and with room to grow further—is leasing space in the classic Manhattan skyscraper to bring its various digital outfits under one roof.
“I couldn’t imagine a nicer day for the sun to shine on Media General,” beamed Sadusky.
While station group acquisitions were the story of 2013, mergers have carried the local broadcast story line since. Media General and LIN officially wedded in the waning days of 2014. On April 1, Scripps and Journal Communications become one—TV and radio stations in one company, and both parties’ newspapers in the other.
Deeper and Richer
Besides increasing scale, the Journal TV stations give Scripps broader reach for its homegrown shows. The Journal radio stations play into Scripps’ “go deep” strategy, as Brian Lawlor, Scripps senior VP of television, described it to B&C recently. Content aside, expanded local operations can produce jointly branded, revenue-generating events such as concerts and job fairs. “It’s a big priority to get deeper in the markets we’re already in,” Lawlor said, “and take a larger share of revenue out of the markets.”
Scripps’ stock price entered 2015 at $22.35, but was tickling $27 last week. The expanded group finds itself built for the future. “Scripps and Journal fit geographically and in terms of size of markets,” said Edward Atorino, analyst at Benchmark Co. “And they get the newspapers out of the way.”
Whether it’s through acquisitions or mergers, groups view getting considerably larger as essential to their existence. Scale means leverage with networks and multichannel video operators, buying power with syndicators and talent, and a wider platform for owned programming. Increasing scale means simply keeping up with the Tribunes and Sinclairs. “There are some big checkbooks in the marketplaces,” said Atorino. “You have to be big to play the game.”
Media General is enjoying the benefits of bigness. Its previous merger with Young spelled around $30 million in synergies, with LIN kicking in another $70 million—half of that by the end of 2015. The Media General group picked up digital best practices from LIN, not to mention some prime tech outfits—it acquired Federated Media Publishing and Dedicated Media, among others, in recent years—in the LIN fold. It also got key talent, including Sadusky, former LIN president and CEO.
The group authorized a $120-million share repurchase program March 23. Sitting at just north of 23% of U.S. households, Media General has considerable headroom under the ownership cap. “We have good scale,” Sadusky told B&C. “And there’s still upside before we reach our statutory limit.”
UNIVISION ROLLS OUT NEW RIDES
Univision’s station group features some flashy new vehicles on the road in its markets—self-sufficient vans designed to crank out more live shots than cumbersome live trucks. Several markets, such as Phoenix and San Antonio, got their “Univision VJ Vehicles” in the past few months; as many as 15 of Univision’s 18 owned markets with news stations will have 2-3 vans apiece by year-end.
Working with LiveU cellular technology, the trucks feature connected interior, exterior and dashboard cameras, an editing bay, lighting system and even a makeup mirror. Kevin Cuddihy, Univision Communications Local Media president, says video journalists were asked what they wanted in a new vehicle, and the trucks were designed accordingly. “They’re not big enough for a bathroom, but the vans have got everything else they could want in there,” he says.
The vans run less than half the cost of a typical live truck and provide indisputable convenience. Says Cuddihy, “They offer a real ability to get more stories onto the air,” he says.