They don't make them like Ed Ansin anymore. Ansin has been in the station ownership game since he and his father acquired what was then WCKT Miami in 1962, and he says he has no interest in selling his plum Sunbeam TV assets: WSVN Miami and WHDH-WLVI Boston.
Ansin, 77, spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about what makes his company work—and work best, the consolidation going on in the business and his tussles with Nielsen. An edited transcript follows.
Are you getting a lot of calls from prospective buyers?
[Laughs] Oddly enough, I never got very many calls. I guess they gave up a long time ago.
Amid all of this consolidation, is it getting tougher for a guy with just a couple of stations to retain his market share?
No, not at all. We’ve been competing with big, big companies for many, many years: CBS, NBC, Post-Newsweek, Hearst, Fox. We don’t have any trouble maintaining our share.
What’s been the key?
We have very good people, which of course is always the key. We have a game plan in mind. We know what we are and what we try to be and I think we do the best job, basically.
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What’s in that game plan?
It’s the way the stations are run across the board. I think we have superior news product, salespeople, general managers. I just think we’re a superior operation.
Is there an advantage to not being as big as the other groups?
Definitely. We’re able to execute more quickly. We don’t have to wait for headquarters to make decisions. We operate much more rapidly.
What’s an example of that?
It’s basically the ability to respond more quickly, to send a team to the scene of a story out of state. Our competition may have to go to headquarters to get an answer, which may not be forthcoming, and we’re already on the scene. We respond very quickly to breaking stories.
Have you ever seen the current degree of consolidation in your broadcasting career?
Oh, no. Nothing like this has existed, nowhere near. When I got into the industry almost 51 years ago, the basic rule was, no company could own more than five VHF stations and two UHF ones for a total of seven. To go from that to where we are today, it’s remarkable.
What’s driving it?
People are able to do it—the FCC hasn’t stopped them. Whatever the rules technically might be, the FCC hasn’t stopped them from doing rather extreme things. The other thing is, money is cheap—they can borrow money and in today’s market not pay a lot of interest.
You took on Nielsen in 2009 with a lawsuit for allegedly violating federal antitrust laws. What do you make of the Nielsen product these days—are you happy with it?
No, no—we’re not happy with Nielsen. I think it’s an enormous problem, not only in our markets, but throughout the industry. The work just isn’t good—the way they sample, the whole system they employ, it just doesn’t work. It’s producing very erratic results, very poor results. It’s costing us all a lot of money. [Nielsen did not respond to a call for comment.]
For a period, you seemed pretty combative— the Nielsen lawsuit, telling NBC you would not air their Jay Leno primetime show in 2009. Have you mellowed?
[Laughs] I guess, maybe. Those were unique situations. NBC worked out fine. Nielsen didn’t, but you win some and lose some, I guess.
Do you feel like local TV is a growth vehicle?
No, I don’t really think that’s the case. I do think it’s a good, strong business. In the past TV was a tremendous growth vehicle, but I don’t really think that’s the case now.
Do you see yourself retiring?
I hope I don’t have to retire. That’s not my goal, but some day, I guess.
What happens to the stations once you are no longer around?
It’s a family business. We have very capable children.
The stations will stay in the family?
Oh, yeah. Sure.
Might Sunbeam be acquiring stations?
If the right situation were to come along, we'd consider it. But I don't really think it's in the cards.
What are you doing to ensure the stations stay relevant for people who maybe don't grow up watching local news?
A lot of young people don't watch news and don't read newspapers; the news they get, they get on the Internet, they get on their mobile devices. You have to have a presence throughout all these different sources of news. You have to maintain your image in the marketplace and develop as much of the young audience as you can. You just have to keep working at it.
The FCC is looking closely at ownership rules and the UHF discount. Do those need looking at or is it OK the way it is?
I think it's amazing what some companies have been able to do [with acquisitions and operating agreements]. It doesn't really affect us-I don't really have strong opinions on the subject, but I do think it's amazing what's been going in.
Do you see retransmission continuing to be a major revenue driver, or has it peaked?
I would certainly like to think it will continue to increase, but it isn't clear that it will. The whole telecommunications world is in such a state of flux that it certainly isn't clear to me where [retrans] will be in five or 10 years. Hopefully we'll be getting a lot more of it, but I'm certainly not confident that that is the case.
How's your relationship with Fox and NBC?
We have very good relationships with both networks.
You've been involved in television and real estate for a long time. Do you see yourself as a real estate guy or a TV guy?
I just find it more interesting. I'm much more personally immersed in television.
It sounds like you're in it full time-you're engaged in the business.
Absolutely. I enjoy the challenges of being in business.
Political season will be here before long. You're in a good position with a Florida station.
Boston as well. We don't get the kind of money they get in other places-California, Iowa. But it's certainly significant.
You're a Boston guy. What's your prediction for the World Series?
The Red Sox will win. The Red Sox are hot-they're very hot.
Which network shows are you watching this fall?
I'm a typical male viewer in that I tend to watch news and sports-particularly basketball and football. My network viewing tends to be when I find out something has been successful-I'll watch it to see what it's all about. But I'm not a big network programming viewer ordinarily.
What was your first impression of owning a TV station back in '62?
I loved it-it was great. We were in the real estate business in Miami and were going through a very, very extended slump. This was a new field and it was thriving and interesting and I loved it from the beginning.
Did you ever think you'd be doing it 51 years later?
[Laughs] I really didn't think that far ahead, no.