Wonder Women of Los Angeles 2022: Lisa Knutson

Lisa Knutson
(Image credit: E.W. Scripps)

Kate O’Brian, head of network news for Scripps National Networks, wasn’t planning to take a full-time job when she met with Lisa Knutson, president of the newly formed E.W. Scripps division.

An ABC News veteran, O’Brian had been consulting when Scripps CEO Adam Symson suggested she talk to Knutson, who was looking for someone to oversee Newsy and Court TV. They set up a half-hour meeting.

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“One hundred and ten minutes into the 30-minute interview and I was impressed by her mind, impressed by her demeanor,” O’Brian said. “She was a fun, interesting person. That meeting literally changed my mind about coming back into full-time work.”

O’Brian applied for the job and became part of the team that Knutson assembled to run the new unit. 

I am very passionate about getting more women into boardrooms. I’m very supportive and help to mentor women that are trying to get their first gig as a public company director.”

Lisa Knutson

With a background in accounting, Knutson joined Scripps as senior VP of human resources, What Knutson is really interested in, though, is transforming companies.

Scripps has been transforming since Knutson arrived. She quickly got involved in the company’s spinoff of Scripps Networks Interactive in 2008. She oversaw strategy for Scripps as chief administrative officer starting in 2011. She became chief financial officer in 2017 and spearheaded the 2021 acquisition of Ion Media Networks, which was combined with Katz Networks, acquired in 2017, and Newsy to form the new national networks division.

As CFO, Knutson said her primary concern was making sure the new unit achieved operational synergies so it could pay back investors and lenders. “I said to Adam [Symson], ‘Whoever’s running this, I’m going to be all over them,’ ” Knutson recalled. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you run it?’ ”

Though Knutson didn’t have operating experience, Symson worked closely with her on the Ion acquisition and decided she was the right person for the job. “I was really looking for somebody with the financial acumen and discipline, the risk tolerance, the creativity and most of all, the soft and hard leadership skills,” he said.

Knutson has done an “awesome” job, Symson added. “She was able to execute the integrations, hit the first-year synergies and simultaneously invest in the business for the longer-term return with the launch of several new networks,” he said. “By every financial measure, we’re exceeding our acquisition thesis. I think she’s adapted really well to being an operating executive.”

Knutson is a native of Cincinnati, where Scripps is based. With her husband of 34 years, she has three grown children and two grandchildren. She loves reading and sports and is trying to learn pickleball. In addition to what she’s doing at Scripps, she’s a director for publicly held WesBanco and privately held Canadian broadcaster Blue Ant Media. “I am very passionate about getting more women into boardrooms,” she said. “I’m very supportive and help to mentor women that are trying to get their first gig as a public company director.”  

Knutson said that Scripps’s vision is to be the leader in free TV while also pursuing the “noble cause” of providing high-quality news. Founder E.W. Scripps started the company to deliver that news with the Penny Press newspaper in Cleveland in 1878, and she’s glad she gets to be the one executing it. “It’s been quite a wild crazy ride over the last 15 months, but one that’s probably the most rewarding of my career,” she said.

Starting Off on a Roll

The new division is off to a strong start. In addition to launching new networks, Scripps Networks is bringing the Scripps National Spelling Bee to its networks from ESPN. “Kids and families across the country are going to be able to enjoy this national treasure,” Knutson said.

Naturally, Knutson’s numbers look good, too. “We grew by 13% in terms of revenue last year with margins in the 40% range,” she said. “That was year one. We’re going to continue to see growth. We have indicated publicly that the growth that we see is in the 10% range over the course of the next several years.”

None of this surprises Symson. “The TV marketplace is dynamic,” he said. “Our biggest advantage is that at Scripps we embrace the disruption. Lisa embraces disruption. Lisa is not satisfied to simply stay still. Lisa is always in evolution mode and understands the need to be that way in this environment.” ▪️

Jon Lafayette

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.