Ackerley gets lean as son advances

Jul 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With last week’s retirement of Denis Curley after more than 15 years with the Ackerley Group, co-President Chris Ackerley was elevated to president.
Mr. Ackerley, son of company founder Barry Ackerley, will be charged with bringing a more focused direction to the company in a tough economic climate for television stations. He will continue to oversee the company’s four divisions-outdoor media, television, radio and interactive media.
In last week’s second-quarter results, Ackerley announced its net revenue was $55.5 million, compared with $60 million for the same time in 2000. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization for the quarter were $8.8 million, compared with $14.1 million for the same period last year.
Ackerley has been controlling costs by selling its sports and entertainment division in the second quarter, reducing its work force by 10 percent, (including some layoffs last week), and selling the Seattle Supersonics team’s jet plane as well as a corporate jet.
“At the present time, our goal is to hopefully refrain from needing to make more cuts in the work force,” Mr. Ackerley told Electronic Media. “Our goal is to not have to go further in the expense-reduction department with respect to employees. We may need to.”
Mr. Ackerley calls this current economic climate an “ad recession,” and to combat that his operative word for Ackerley’s television group is “streamlining.”
As a station group, Ackerley has taken the lead with concepts such as digital central casting, which connects its stations that are in the same geographical regions. Of the 18 stations in the group, 16 are connected by digital central casting-the other two are not in regions near sister stations. The company has saved $2 million because of the hub system, and other station groups are now following Ackerley’s lead.
Mr. Ackerley will be working closely with newly named TV Group President John Dresel, who worked in the company’s sports division before Ackerley sold the Sonics in April.
“The management team for this company has used the current downturn in ad spending … to look at every piece in the organization to streamline what we are doing,” Mr. Ackerley said. “The goal is to continue to make things more efficient and do more with less, so when the advertising market improves, we want to be at the forefront of that, and we can see our sales climb drastically and our margins improve at the same rate.”
The station group has already begun to streamline. In the spring, independent station KFTY-TV, Santa Rosa, Calif., which is in the San Francisco market, and sister station CBS-affiliate KVIQ-TV, Eureka, Calif., began airing a regional morning newscast that is produced with one staff out of KVIQ.
On the East Coast, weekend weatherman Greg Horine at ABC affiliate WUTR-TV, Utica, N.Y., also does a separate weather forecast targeted at Watertown, N.Y., viewers for sister station WWTI-TV, an ABC affiliate. That effort began in April when WWTI launched its weekend 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts.
“We’re just finding ways to generate efficiencies,” Mr. Ackerley said. “When you watch the news on our station in
Watertown, you are getting a Watertown weather forecast that is 100 percent local for Watertown. We found a very solid idea here. As things progress, we’ll continue to evaluate how we can deliver the best local news through streamlining and finding new ways to leverage digital central casting for more efficiency. We want to make sure viewers in the market feel they are still getting the best of the best.”
Ackerley’s interactive media division began what it calls the iKnow Network, which consists of local Web sites that are based out of the television stations that act as portals for the region.
The first Web site to roll out was iKnowBakersfield.com in November. iKnowRochester.com launched in March, and iKnowcentralcoast.com made its debut in May. So far, a total of 20 people are employed by the network of Web sites, some of whom specifically sell ads for the Web sites.
Mr. Ackerley is hoping to have partnerships with local newspapers on content and advertising, and Ackerley already has partnerships with some local radio stations for the Web sites.