Broadcast TV stations didn’t simply return to normal in 2021, the year after the COVID-19 pandemic upended just about everything in their businesses and in their local markets.
“As I look back on the year, it was really about helping our communities,” said Brian Lawlor, president of local media for E.W. Scripps Co., the Broadcasting+Cable Station Group of the Year for 2021. “I think we never lost sight of that.”
Local TV Awards: Celebrating 2021’s Station Standouts
Broadcaster of the Year: Diane Kniowski, Chief Local Media Officer, Univision Communications
GM of the Year, Markets 1-25: Chad Matthews, WABC New York
GM of the Year, Markets 21-50: Collin Gaston, WBRC Birmingham, Alabama
GM of the Year, Markets 51-Plus: Bruce Cummings, KIII Corpus Christi, Texas
Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year: NBCUniversal Local
News Director of the Year: Allison McGinley, WKMG Orlando
Local TV Anchor of the Year: Robert Hadlock, KXAN Austin
Meteorologist of the Year: Tom Messner, WPTZ Burlington
While Scripps as a company expanded its national network business, its stations were dedicated to helping viewers navigate through a challenging year. The pandemic was still an issue and stations had to dispense news about vaccines and masks as the information from sources including the Centers for Disease Control and the White House changed almost daily.
The pandemic affected viewers at home and the people who work for Scripps, Lawlor noted. “Every decision we made was about the safety of our employees,” Lawlor said. At this point, only about 40% of the company’s workers are back at their desks. “In this new normal, there’s a much higher level of flexibility because our people do great work and create immense value working remotely.”
Among those reporting to work daily at the stations are many people involved in newscasts, in front of and behind the camera.
COVID also had an impact on local enterprises and Scripps started up an initiative called The Rebound, designed to help those businesses find new ways to serve customers and staff up as the economy rebounded.
One of Scripps’s programs helped local businesses declare “We’re Open.” Another announced, “Workers Wanted.” Each station’s website has a page dedicated to The Rebound where news stories about local business and other tools and resources can be accessed.
The Rebound earned Scripps a 2021 Service to America Award from the National Association of Broadcasters.
Thinking Outside the Car
With automobile dealers — local TV’s biggest spenders in normal times — largely in park during the pandemic, Scripps stations managed to generate new business from more than 1,000 new accounts, even though salespeople were unable to call on their clients and prospects in person.
“Who would have thought we’d tell our salespeople to stay home and stop visiting their customers and we’d get record results,” Lawlor said. “And yet here we are.”
Looking ahead to 2022, Lawlor expects Scripps stations to have a role in helping traditional businesses, like auto dealers, find new ways to do business as the pandemic recedes.
He is also expecting record political spending during the 2022 midterm elections. Scripps has stations in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, Ohio and Wisconsin, where there will be U.S. Senate races, and in eight states where there’s an election for governor.
Reporting and fact-checking will be important in the election cycle to help people make their own decisions and TV stations will do their part in uniting viewers, Lawlor said. Over the last few years, “communities have been pulled apart,” he said. “I think we can play a role in bringing them back together.” ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.