Tom Sly is the vice president of digital revenue at The E.W. Scripps Co. and the 2021 chair of Local Media Association’s board of directors.
Tom leads digital revenue development and strategy across Scripps’ broadcast and digital operations. He joined Scripps in 2012 and prior to that led business development, revenue, and operations for a number of large and privately held broadcast companies and several digital startups.
Tom shared more about his role with LMA and insights on the future of local news:
What are your goals for the year as the new chair of the LMA board of directors?
Local media are facing challenging times. The pandemic has caused tremendous economic pressure against our media organizations while compounding the financial obstacles that we’ve been enduring over the past decade. Our audiences are consuming local news on many new platforms, with new devices, and from emerging news sources. At the same time, our news brands are being tarnished by what is occurring nationally, thus threatening the trust that consumers have in our brands. It is time for us to be bold at LMA. We’re leading many new initiatives to help local media transform and to sustain our businesses. We’ve been fortunate that the Local Media Association began launching initiatives over two years ago that are targeting many of the challenges we face today. My goal is to ensure that we continue these important initiatives while pushing the boundaries of how we look at our businesses and what is needed to sustain and grow local media. We must be bold in our strategy and investment to make this happen.
As the first broadcast executive to chair the LMA board, what do you want other broadcasters to know about the work LMA is doing to help drive their business transformation?
I’ve learned so much from my time as a member and board member of the LMA. This organization is one that is consistently thinking about what is ahead of us as our industry evolves. There are opportunities for broadcasters to participate in some of the tried and true initiatives like the LMA Digital Club, where media executives participate in monthly calls to discuss and dissect issues important to our industry. Then there are opportunities like the recently announced Covering Climate Collaborative where member companies will be working together to elevate reporting on the impact of climate change in our communities. We’ve also had a Connected TV committee that meets every other week to discuss distribution and monetization strategies across connected platforms. If you don’t choose to participate, every initiative has outcomes that are shared with members. These are best practices that have been tested and proven, and that you can put to work in your company. Like anything in life, you get more out of LMA when you put more into it. I suggest all members get on a committee, attend our webinars, and get involved!
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the media industry today?
Having the time and financial resources to invest and evolve our businesses to meet the technological advancements in the industry and our audiences’ consumption needs. Our industry is transforming. Are we transforming our brands and technology fast enough, and are we making the investments in the areas with the greatest long-term opportunity? With all of this transformation, do we have budgets and bandwidth to think about what is next? How will content consumption change as transportation evolves to autonomous vehicles? How will television evolve as more viewers cut the cord, retransmission revenues decrease and ATSC 3.0 allows for 1:1 targeting? Will 5G or satellite internet become prolific enough to allow radio to be transmitted over new bandwidth, allowing interactivity and eliminating the need for transmitters and broadcast towers? Will ultra-thin TV’s that roll up or are transparent change how and where we view video? Will newspapers evolve to digital-only subscriptions with new revenue models?
What do you think is the greatest opportunity for the media industry today?
It’s actually an exciting time for media. New technologies are emerging daily — new ways to connect with new and existing audiences on new devices. The opportunities that we have to tell stories and inform our communities have never been greater. Balancing the effort and investment in our legacy business with these emerging opportunities is, of course, where we must make difficult decisions. LMA is testing many new funding methods and business models that make these decisions easier for members.
What is the one LMA initiative you are most excited about in 2021?
This is a little like asking parents which one of their children is their favorite. There are so many initiatives in progress that it’s difficult for me to pick one favorite. I will say that the work we’re doing to provide sustainability for publishers of color, along with our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, will make a difference to preserve journalism for minority and underserved publishers. This work along with the efforts to fund journalism with philanthropy are both unique projects that I don’t see other industry organizations tackling. We’re fortunate to have partners like Knight Foundation, Google News Initiative, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Facebook Journalism Project, and Walton Family Foundation that have provided funding to help us with these important initiatives. I cannot think of any other industry organization that is investing in and producing as much innovation and experimentation as LMA.