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On Being a‘Better’ Broadcaster

Paul Karpowicz was named president of the Meredith group in 2005. Meredith’s dozen stations span a broad spectrum of affiliations, as well as markets— large and small, East Coast and West. Karpowicz is one of the most active broadcasters in the nation when it comes to defending the industry’s interests in Washington; he currently holds the influential NAB joint board chairman role, among others. Karpowicz spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about what sets the Meredith stations apart. An edited transcript follows.

How do you define a Meredith station?

A Meredith station is known as being very involved in the community. From a programming perspective, it’s known for quality news product.

Meredith has a management deal with [Turner’s] Peachtree TV in Atlanta. Any more of those deals in the works?

We love that deal. We think it’s a win-win proposition for Turner and us. It gives us an opportunity to oversee sales and operations for two stations and bring certain aspects of that station under our control. For Turner, it eliminates a lot of overhead. We’re constantly on the lookout for opportunities like that.

Meredith’s Better show recently reached 1,000 episodes. Might Meredith do another national or syndicated program?

We’ve got a really interesting show we produce in Las Vegas called More. Las Vegas is a market where you get tremendous national entertainment—you have a lot of very interesting and talented people coming through the studio to participate in that show. I don’t know that we’re ready to roll that out as a national syndication play. We’re still focused on making the Better show the best possible daytime women’s lifetime show it can be.

What’s your degree of anxiety regarding the FCC and spectrum issues?

I think we’ve come a long way. The most recent legislation has drawn some boundaries around what the auction will look like; I think that’s given broadcasters some comfort about how the auction might be structured. But we need to continue to stay in touch with the FCC, work with them and help them defi ne how they want to do this. At this stage, we can’t bury our head in the sand. We need to be proactive and make sure they hear our concerns and work with them to make sure it’s a process that is workable for everyone.

How is 2012 political ad spending looking for the Meredith stations?

It varies by market. Once the primary season is over and the Republicans have a candidate, it will be very interesting to see if that becomes the signal for President Obama and the Democratic Super PACs to unleash their war chest. We look at it very carefully, market by market. Some of the gubernatorial races are very hotly contested, and some senatorial races will be very interesting.

We continue to be cautiously optimistic. Through primary season, we had some markets that did better than expected and some that did not do as well as expected. It was truly a mixed bag.

How is your core business for 2012?

We’re very encouraged. We think it’s certainly going to be plus; the only question is, is it going to be mid-to-high single digits? I don’t want to get too specific, but I definitely think it’s going to be a plus year.

You sound optimistic.

Yes. You look back at the high point of our business, which for our company was 2007, before the recession kicked in. You fast-forward to where we are now, and we’ve come back. Through a lot of innovation, hard work, cost-cutting and technological advances, we’ve scratched and clawed our way back to where we were at the high point of our business. And that’s what we’re looking for for next year as well.

The Newport TV stations are on the block. Might Meredith do an acquisition this year?

We look at everything. We look at every book that comes out, and with virtually every deal that comes out, we are approached. People look at us and say that we would be in a position to do acquisitions and we are-we have the kind of balance sheet that lends itself to that. I can't comment on Newport or any particular deal but we are always looking in the marketplace. There's a great opportunity now to look at stations because I think there are some ownership groups looking to get out.

What about selling stations, or selling the group?

No, I certainly don't think we have any expectations to sell altogether. We have a very nice portfolio-stations in good markets, a nice combination of network diversity, although we'd certainly love to have some ABC affiliates. As we look across the group, I don't think there's anything I see that I would like to get rid of. That's not to say if anyone came to us with an interesting opportunity, that we wouldn't entertain that discussion. But for right now we are very happy with the stations we have.

Which network is the easiest to deal with?

We're partners with everyone-we have relationships with CBS, Fox, NBC. We try to get along with everybody. Each network presents different challenges and opportunities. If you go into discussions with an expectation that you're ultimately going to come to a solution, then you can actually expect positive results. That's been our experience. We have respect for our network partners and I think they have respect for us. When you enter into negotiations under those terms, the odds are you are going to come out with a result you can both live with.

We've have spoken about the vitality of the network-affiliate model before. The model blew up in some cases over the summer. Do you feel both sides are finally appreciating what the other brings to the table?

I do. We are certainly going through a transformational time. There was a time when the network paid affiliates, there was a time we paid for football. Now we evolve into another time where you get into programming payments as part of new affiliation agreements. But I think at the end of the day the fundamental relationship-the value the network brings and the value of affiliates-still needs to be recognized. If both parties take a step back and not let the rhetoric get ahead of us-if we look at it and say, you know, this model works, let's not blow it up, let's not get crazy here-we have found, if both sides approach these issues in a reasonable manner, we can come to a solution that generally both parties can live with.

Mobile DTV was going to be a big thing last year, then it was going to be a big thing this year. Is that coming along on schedule?

Meredith is part of the MVC group, working with Dyle on the rollout of mobile DTV. There is this deal with Metro PCS where it's going to be rolled out, I believe, in 10 or so markets in the next year. We have a couple [of those] markets. We're talking about a brand new technology and a brand new product-I don't know if it's fair to say it's behind schedule or not living up to expectations. This is a process. The process will continue. The good thing is, you see broadcasters-broadcasters and networks-committed to the process. We look at this as a very important part of our future.

Which new shows are you watching?

I watch everything. My wife is amazed at the stuff I watch. I scroll through so many channels at the same time it's frightening. But I watch everything.

Which shows make her the most amazed?

The fact that I watch Hillbilly Handfishin' and Swamp People on cable totally surprises her. Beyond that, most of my viewing is network. I certainly like CBS' schedule. They've done a really solid job of continuing the tradition of CSI, Criminal Minds, that kind of stuff. CBS is probably where I spend the most time. But I truly enjoy watching all networks. On NBC, Harry's Law is a nice kind of surprise hit. And I tend to watch a lot of sports.

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