Elections, Super Bowl, digital to fuel Gray growth


Gray TelevisionBattlegrounds and a hot presidential race are expected to keep the cash registers ringing at Gray Television stations during 2012. And having a number of NBC affiliates doesn’t hurt when that network has the Super Bowl and the Olympics on the schedule. Add in a company-wide focus on increasing digital revenue and a strong 2012 revenue year is at hand.

Gray is also going to focus on super-serving its communities, particularly via its journalism operations. The company is “…trying to make the news local local local,” said honcho Bob Prager.

He said that local is extremely important to the audience in smaller DMAs, and added that his company was going to go even farther than just putting a local spin on the news. It is also going to expand its live and local offerings, harkening back to programming he remembered watching during his own youth.

Besides super-serving the local community, Prager noted the advantage of fill air time with programming that is under the complete and total control of Gray.

Gray is expecting 2012 growth beyond just the political category. Its Q1 2012 guidance calls for revenue gains of about 4% excluding political, with a 25%-30% gain in digital.

Digital is extremely important to Gray’s plans. Prager said it was great in 2011 and will be better going forward. It’s bringing in advertisers, many of whom have not been traditional television customers.

Digital is also important to the group’s focus on local. Asked about the group’s digital presence, Prager remarked that the company’s GMs and NDs make sure all on-air talent have active social media presence. “It’s just something we’ve got to embrace…We have to integrate it totally into our news product…it’s what the public wants.” He said it applies the audience members whether they are age 20 or age 75.

Gray operates in smaller markets, and Prager noted that national is volatile and unreliable at that level for a number of reasons. He said his company certainly likes that source of income, which supplements a business that is comprised of local spot to the tune of 70%. He said he’d prefer that local made up 80%, though – since the unreliable characteristics of national do not figure to change in Gray’s sphere of operation.

Asked about the M&A scene, Prager noted that for the most part financiers are still on the sidelines, multiples may not be where backers want it to be, and most companies are looking to pay down rather than incur debt, so Prager believes that the station trading market will remain very slow in 2012.