E.W. Scripps is investing some $20 million this year looking to increase digital ad revenue in the markets where it owns newspapers and TV stations.
“The bulk of that is going for advertising systems and feet on the street -- sales reps focused solely on digital advertising,” said CEO Richard Boehne on an earnings call.
He added that about 100 salespeople will be added and “as a good sign, in the first quarter the revenue growth that we saw in the markets that we have already staffed is running about twice what we saw in the first quarter in the other combined TV markets.”
The company also is looking to boost its newspaper subscriptions that include print and digital access. A bundled offering was launched in Memphis in March and Boehne said 15%-plus of print subscribers have gone through the steps to activate digital access.
The company will have the bundled offering -- which means an online paywall -- in almost all of its markets by Memorial Day.
“This is a critical period for the newspapers as we rebalance the business model with more revenue from subscribers who are attracted by high-value content on tablets, smartphones and, of course, also on print,” Boehne said. “We are creating content worth paying for across all those platforms.”
Scripps operates TV stations in 19 markets and newspapers in 13.
Scripps, which acquired stations from McGraw-Hill recently, is the largest ABC affiliate group and Brian Lawlor, who heads television operations, said the company would continue to examine acquisition opportunities. Non-ABC stations might be preferable, but it would not rule out getting bigger there as well.
“Look, I think -- ideally, we would be more diversified, not have as many stations in one affiliation, although we do enjoy the scale and leverage of being the largest ABC group … But that said, I think that as we showed last year, we're active in the space and we continue to look at everything that pops up. If there was an opportunity that strategically made sense for us to diversify our portfolio in terms of affiliation, we would,” Lawlor said.
In the most recent quarter, Scripps said local ad dollars were down 4.9% at its TV stations, while national revenues were up by about the same amount. Total stations' revenue was $96.9 million, down about 3%.
The company reported a $2.7 million loss, down from the $4.4 million loss in the same period a year ago.