FRONT OFFICE BY MARY COLLINS

Don’t Lose Sleep Over Financial Challenges

Media Finance 2012, MFM’s upcoming annual conference, has put together a series of sessions designed to ease the minds of finance execs by tackling tough issues including: interactive and digital media, mobile video, retransmission consent, political advertising, credit disasters, accounting practices, HR and organization development and tax issues.

Do you remember the Clinton campaign’s “It’s 3 a.m.” ad during the last Presidential primary season, the one where the other leading candidate’s ability to handle an international crisis was called into question? While it seems tame compared to some of the ads we’re seeing with this year’s primaries, it has remained fresh in my memory for its ability to conjure up those nighttime fears many of us can have about being prepared for what lies ahead. 

The ad came to mind as I was having one of those 3 a.m. moments recently. I was thinking about Media Finance 2012, MFM’s upcoming annual conference. That’s not to suggest that I consider decisions pertaining to the event’s sessions, speakers, menus and other minute details on the scale of an international crisis. However, there is that common phenomenon among many of us where we lie awake in the middle of the night, trying to put to rest those fears about being prepared so that we can enjoy some rest before rising to face these challenges.

It also occurred to me that there was a strong correlation between my middle-of-the- night musings and what may be keeping our members — the industry’s financial managers — awake at night. That’s because our conference agenda should provide the knowledge our members need to be prepared for the challenges they and their companies will be facing in the months and years ahead. 

I began to rest a bit easier as I recalled the sessions being planned by our conference committee to address these challenges. This year’s committee is led by Cheryl Ingram, SVP-controller-CAO for Turner Broadcasting System. Ingram also serves as vice chair of MFM’s board of directors. Assisting her as 2012 conference co-chair is Chad Richardson, director of financial planning Cox Enterprises, who also serves as MFM board secretary.

So what are the challenges that may be keeping our industry financial leaders awake at night? Here are the eight that can be the most detrimental to getting a good night’s rest:

1. Interactive and digital media — As evidenced by this year’s NAB Show, which is devoting an entire conference to “disruptive media,” numerous challenges threaten to disrupt traditional business models. Developments in online video, mobile and branded entertainment are luring viewers — and consequently advertisers — away from traditional viewing. 

BRAND CONNECTIONS

To help our members turn the threat of disruptive media into new opportunities, our conference committee is developing sessions that will look at what’s working in online and mobile media and the best way to maximize exposure and, ultimately, revenue using these platforms. We’ll also explore the mechanics for efficiently selling, tracking, distributing and scheduling video across these multiple platforms.

2.  Mobile video — Of course the platform that is currently of greatest importance to local broadcasters is mobile TV. Our television committee is kicking of its conference track with a look at what is available, how to monetize it and what the timeline for future development might be. We will also have a session that examines systems that can provide accurate billing, tracking and analysis tools for mobile video ventures

3.  Retransmission consent — While retransmission consent rules have been in place for 20 years now, it’s only been relatively recently that broadcasters have used those negotiations for cash compensation. Our TV committee is developing a session that will examine where the process stands and what is in the pipeline. This panel will also evaluate strategies and analyze the situation from multiple points of view.

4. Political advertising Political advertising represents a significant portion of projected ad revenues this year. However, the consequences for failing to comply with regulations such as lowest unit charge (LUC) and equal opportunity are enough to keep finance and accounting managers — and your company’s general counsel — up at night. To prevent them from having to count the dollars that could be lost instead of counting sheep, MFM is pulling together a panel of legal experts to discuss the “do’s and don’ts” of political advertising. 

5. Credit disasters While we have many reasons to be confident about the outlook for ad sales this year, our financial managers rest much easier when the money for those ads is in the bank. Our BCCA subsidiary is at work developing a track of sessions that will help the industry’s credit and collections departments reduce the risk of bad debt by adopting the best of leading practices. This year’s sessions will help attendees identify leading practices for credit card payments, identifying troubled companies, credit scoring, financial statement analysis, preventing impression discrepancies and the use of DSO (day sales outstanding) for benchmarking.

6. Accounting practices  In addition to keeping up on all the latest regulations and standards that govern financial accounting, our industry’s financial accounting executives must also properly account for the many new ways that their companies derive revenue. This year’s conference will help them confront accounting issues that may be interrupting their zzzz’s, with sessions that address revenue recognition; the correct way to report on discontinued operations; the complicated area of lease accounting; valuation trends; the terms, structures and financing issues that are a part of the most recent M&A activities; and a “reporting refresher” covering the latest guidance from the SEC, FASB and IASB — three of the policymakers whose machinations can get in the way of anyone’s good night’s sleep.

7. HR and organization development Even if HR doesn’t report to them, CFOs and CAOs (chief accounting officers) need to be involved in this area. Non-compliance with EEOC and other HR issues present significant financial risk for companies, so knowledge of issues such as compliance with healthcare reform rules; the appropriate practices for using social media in recruiting and evaluating job candidates; and changes in wage and hour rules is a must. This year’s conference will include a series of HR-related sessions designed to prepare our attendees for these challenges.

8.  Tax issues — With 2011 tax filings either a not-so-distant memory or an upcoming nightmare, I know you can appreciate how concerns over compliance with the latest laws and ruling would keep our companies finance and accounting executives up at night. Not only are they concerned with compliance matters, tax planning represents a major way their companies ensure they put their capital to work in a manner that optimizes the ROI provided to their shareholders. Example of the taxing issues that will be tackled at our conference include compliance with sales and use taxes, which vary by state; the best way for managing and reporting personal and real property taxes; and guidance on anticipated changes in tax laws at the federal and state levels.

In addition to the role of these in-depth discussions play in helping financial managers to prepare for the days that lie ahead, the conference will feature keynotes from industry leaders whose insights can help attendees to see these challenges and the opportunities they present more clearly.

Confirmed speakers already include Stephen M. Lacy, chairman-CEO of Meredith Corp.; Paul McTear, president-CEO, Raycom Media; Bruce Reese, president-CEO, Hubbard Radio; Gary Schlossberg, VP-senior economist for Wells Capital Management; Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media CMAG; and CNN Correspondent Poppy Harlow, anchor for CNNMoney.com, who covers major international and domestic events that affect our economy and U.S. businesses.   

The conference also features a series of roundtable discussions that allow members to compare notes on common problems and brainstorm innovative solutions with their peers

Finally, I want to recognize one of the key reasons I don’t lose too much sleep thinking about how we can help our members be ready for the kind of 3 a.m. call that can come their way any time of day — Charlie Warner and the small, but mighty MFM staff.

Charlie is the president of Broadcast Finance Inc., an Evanston, Ill.-based media management consulting firm who serves MFM as its conference coordinator and outsourced CFO. In addition to his more than 30 years in the industry, he has helped us with the conference for about 15 years. Jamie Smith, MFM’s director of operations, and Arcelia Pimentel, membership head, not only fulfill the responsibilities of their particular function, but also serve as staff liaison to a specific list of committees as well as handling registration and other functions at the conference.

They are joined by Debi Borden, administrative manager, and Andrew Long, BCCA sales manager and a small team of contract people who handle public relations, write for and edit our magazine, take the photos and/or work with our conference locations. We couldn’t do it without them.

Of course, the conference simply wouldn’t be possible without the MFM committee members who suggest and develop the sessions or the outstanding leadership provided by Cheryl and Chad. 

This year our theme is “Stacking the Deck in Your Favor,” a nod to our Las Vegas location. It’s also been something of a catch phrase for us as we’ve planned what we will be presenting May 21-23 at Caesars Palace. Knowing that forewarned is forearmed (to mix metaphors), the committees and our co-chairs have made sure we are tackling the subjects that are keeping media professionals from getting a good night’s rest. Knowing that, when I do have those 3 a.m. moments, I’m able to fluff my pillow, smile in anticipation of all that I have to look forward to in May and go back to sleep.

There’s no better antidote to those middle of the night terrors than knowing that you have prepared yourself for what they future may bring. Thanks to all the hard work by everyone involved in planning Media Finance Focus 2012, the odds are truly stacked in favor of this year’s conference attendees. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas in May whether or not media financial concerns are keeping you up at night.


Mary M. Collins is president & CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.