By Jay Small • LMA Chief Operating Officer

Television broadcasting executives say they have seen some encouraging signs in early-2021 advertising sales, but their station groups still have plenty of work ahead to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Emily Barr

“I am hearing from our people they’re pleasantly surprised with how healthy the business is even right now,” said Emily Barr, chief executive officer, Graham Media Group.

Pat LaPlatney, co-CEO and president, Gray Communications, cited similar signs of renewed vigor in advertising. “We can see ourselves at least pushing back toward 2019 levels in our core business, which is local, digital and national.”

Pat LaPlatney

Barr and LaPlatney participated in a virtual CEOs roundtable moderated by Gordon Borrell, chief executive officer of Borrell Associates, as part of LMA’s recent Accelerate Local 2021 event. In addition to an overall advertising outlook, Borrell asked the two executives to address several topics of critical interest in the broadcast TV industry:

Retransmission consent revenue

The CEOs observe the impact of cord-cutting, as well as network programming becoming available via streaming, on retransmission consent revenues. But they remain generally positive about the trajectory of “retrans” (for those outside the TV space, here’s one attempt to explain retransmission consent revenue, and a recent industry forecast) as well as the resiliency of cable and satellite delivery.

LaPlatney noted that the costs of multiple streaming services and sufficient internet bandwidth for cord-cutting begin to add up for consumers. “If you start looking at the numbers around that, a cable bundle maybe looks better.”

Political advertising

Both CEOs also shared continued optimism for TV broadcasters’ share of political advertising, while acknowledging that digital will continue to grow share of political spending. “It may eventually diminish for us, yes, but I think it will be going the other way at least for the next few cycles,” LaPlatney said.

Selling OTT impressions alongside, against broadcast

When asked about the growth of Over-The-Top (here’s one of many explainers), Connected TV and streaming ad sales vs. other ad forms, the CEOs both described internal sales leadership and training that focuses on meeting clients’ needs across TV and digital services.

But both were clear they don’t want to replace high value-per-unit sales with lower value products. “It’s not a free-for-all, and it’s not an either-or,” Barr said. “We don’t want to take away the most powerful medium we have, which is TV. We do sell OTT, but not at the expense of broadcast.”

Here are highlights from other TV broadcasting sessions at Accelerate Local 2021:

ATSC 3.0/NextGenTV

Sam Matheny from the National Association of Broadcasters and Anne Schelle from Pearl TV gave a thorough overview of ATSC 3.0 (also known as NextGenTV) capabilities and current state of implementation — their presentations are available on the conference downloads page.

Kerry Oslund

The panel addressed questions about the potential for data applications as part of the ATSC 3.0 rollout, for addressability and interactivity. Kerry Oslund, vice president of strategy and business development, The E.W. Scripps Co., commented: “You guys with strong digital backgrounds, who know programmatic and addressable ads, are so well positioned for the future of broadcast.”

Growing new local opportunities

Maria Doherty

When the conversation turned to lead attribution for advertising, Maria Doherty, senior director, digital sales strategy, Nexstar Digital, offered this: “We see attribution as a shared responsibility with clients. They have to be willing to do things like committing to the right creative.”

OTT/Connected TV

Though OTT and Connected TV offer the kinds of targeting capabilities digital ad buyers might be accustomed to, attendees heard this caution from Jesse McCambridge, senior director, digital revenue and sales strategy, Cox Media Group: “Targeting can be like salt. A little bit is good. Too much and you can’t go back, and you might miss audience you needed to reach.”

Jesse McCambridge

When asked about the importance of working with TV manufacturers toward getting local stations’ content on their connected interfaces, Lora Dennis, senior vice president, digital media, NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, said there are challenges on both sides of the conversation: “We’d like to be there, but if getting there is a shift from our core priorities, we have to weigh that. They [manufacturers] want us but we’re complicating the platform.”