In just a few short years, digital efforts like Web sites and mobile at traditional TV station groups have skyrocketed from ancillary afterthoughts to top-of-mind content and revenue centers. Here’s who’s leading the charge into this brave new world at the top revenue-producing groups.
When Ron Stitt, Fox Television Station’s VP of digital media, joined the group three years ago, digital efforts like the station’s Web sites were considered ancillary projects, hardly vital.
Since then, however, Stitt and the new media he oversees have moved up the company ranks. With station Web sites now nearly universally accepted as an essential means of reaching audiences — and making money — Stitt’s endeavors are no longer considered second tier.
“Digital is really now part of our DNA,” said Stitt, adding that Fox’s new media audience has grown to many million users during his tenure. “It’s really now integral to the broader business.”
Stitt is not alone.
TVNewsCheck‘s survey of the top revenue-producing TV station groups found that most now have dedicated new media executives, often with the rank of vice president or higher (see chart below). They invariably oversee the local Web sites, and in most cases also have responsibility for various mobile initiatives and other digital efforts.
And a sampling of these executives — many in their jobs three years or less — said that like Stitt they have seen their status and their contribution to their companies grow.
Robb Richter, LIN Television’s senior vice president of new media, said LIN’s commitment to Web sites has grown dramatically since he joined the company in 2006,. In fact, other than a few scattered station Web sites, new media was virtually nonexistent before Richter came on board, he said. “We were really behind the eight ball.”
In the last two-and-a-half years, Richter said, LIN has watched its new media endeavors take off. Digital revenue accounted for 12 percent of LIN’s total revenue in the first quarter of 2009 versus just 5 percent in the first quarter of 2008, he said.
“First and foremost, television is what we built this business on and we’re very successful. That’s still the core of our business and the core of our revenue,” he said. “But new media will have a much higher growth rate, and we envision that new media will be a substantial percentage of our overall revenue.”
Adam Symson, Scripps Television Group’s vice president, interactive, is operating on a similar premise. In the two-and-a-half years since joining Scripps — the job didn’t exist before that — Symson has helped launch Web sites as well as mobile and iPhone applications.
“We fundamentally believe that in order to win the war in the local media landscape you need to win the battle on the Internet,” said Symson.
“The power is in the hands of the consumers so we’ve got to make our content ready for where the consumer wants it.”
At Univision’s headquarters, Kevin Conroy, president of Univision Interactive Media, has been doing just that, overseeing Univision.com and Univision Móvil, two of the country’s largest Spanish-language new media outlets.
Media companies have little choice but to respond to what audiences want, Conroy said. “The goal should be to enable consumers to have access to media experiences anytime, anywhere. It’s all about choice.”
Though the platforms that digital media executives are working with may be new, some of the concepts they are embracing are not, they said.
Thomas Cox, Meredith Broadcast Group’s vice president, broadcast solutions, said his job has grown to include the oversight of new media over the past two years.
Cox said that he sees broadcast TV and the new media as complementary, an idea that dates back more than a decade when Meredith started cross-promoting its magazine and TV station content.
“We are still a content company, no matter what,” Cox said. “It doesn’t matter what our brand is or what our affiliation is. The life of the station flows through that content.”
BROADCAST TV’S NEW MEDIA MAVENS
The following list comprises the top 20 TV stations groups (ranked according to BIAfn’s 2007 revenue estimates) along with the names of the executive or executives in charge of online ventures. In most cases, the executives also have responsibility for mobile and other new media efforts. Absent from the list are the executives of Local TV and Newport Television. Neither group responded to the survey.
1. FOX: Ron Stitt, vice president, digital media.
2. NBC: Brian Buchwald, senior vice president, NBC Local Integrated Media.
3. CBS: Jonathan Leess, president, CBS TV Stations Digital Media Group, left the company at the end of 2008. While the group searches for a successor, group president Tom Kane is overseeing the Web sites.
4. ABC: Bill Burton, executive vice president, digital media.
5. TRIBUNE: Marc Chase, president, Tribune Interactive, oversees online and mobile operations for newspapers as well as broadcast stations.
6. GANNETT: Chris Saridakis, senior vice president and chief digital officer, oversees new media for newspapers and as well as the TV stations.
7. HEARST TELEVISION: Roger Keating, senior vice president, digital media, which includes online, mobile and other digital TV projects.
8. BELO: Joe Darren Weir, general manager, interactive.
9. UNIVISION: Kevin Conroy, president, Univision Interactive Media. Conroy’s responsibilities include Univision.com and Univision Móvil.
10. RAYCOM: Pat LaPlatney, vice president, digital media.
11. COX TELEVISION: Sandhi Kozsuch, director, broadband and digital.
12. SINCLAIR: Rob Weisbord, regional manager, Las Vegas and Minneapolis, doubles as head of Sinclair online marketing and sales efforts. Antonia Kollman, manager, new media, is charged with operating the Web sites.
13 LOCAL TV: N/A
14. POST-NEWSWEEK: Neil Goldstein, vice president, creative services & digital, WDIV Detroit, oversees Web products for the group along with Kerry Moylan, vice president, sales. They share responsibilities for content and design.
15 LIN TELEVISION: Robb Richter, senior vice president, new media.
16. MEDIA GENERAL: Kirk Read, president, interactive media division.
17.MEREDITH BROADCASTING: Thomas Cox, VP, broadcast solutions.
18. SCRIPPS: Adam Symson, vice president, interactive.
19. GRAY: Lisa Bishop, vice president, internet operations and new media.
20. NEWPORT: N/A