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Old School Strategies Open New Markets

Operating three broadcast-network affiliates, a network feed to Puerto Rico and a profitable 24-hour Caribbean channel all from one facility would comprise a major commitment to multi-platform television by a large, well-capitalized station group. The fact that two brothers, operating in Erie, Pa., the country’s 144th-largest DMA, successfully do all this is remarkable.

It’s so notable, in fact, that Brian Lilly, the president and CEO of the NBC affiliate WICU, and Kevin Lilly, owner and president of the CBS affiliate, WSEE, have been named B&C’s 2010 Multiplatform Broadcasters of the Year.

Soon after Kevin Lilly purchased CBS affiliate WSEE in 2002, Erie NBC affiliate WICU, owned by Brian and his father, George Lilly, through SJL Broadcasting of Pa., began operating WICU under a leased market agreement. In 2009, all operations were moved into WICU’s facilities.

That’s where a staff of about 80 now produces 57.5 hours of local news each week for three Erie outlets—WSEE, WICU, and CW affiliate WSEE-DT2—in addition to supplying all the weather and some of the news for the brothers’ 24-hour One Caribbean Television (OCT).

Earlier this year, the facility became a betatest site for WideOrbit’s new automation system. The brothers are eyeing the possibility of a mobile DTV launch. But their multi-platform strategy “really relies on people, not automation,” notes Brian Lilly, who stresses they consolidated their operations and launched OCT prior to deploying the automation system. “It’s really kind of old-school. Kevin and I both believe it’s all about localism.”

The brothers got that philosophy from their dad, who regularly brought his kids in to the Buffalo, N.Y., CBS affiliate he managed.

More recently, the brothers’ focus on local needs played a key role in the development of the Caribbean channel. During travels to the region, Brian Lilly found very little local news and weather on TV. So in January 2005, the brothers added a five-minute Caribbean weather report to the WSEE feed that was already being sent to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean markets. Those efforts grew into OCT; launched July 1, 2009, it is now pro! table and available in 14 countries.

“Being a family-owned operation means we can really take a long-term view of the business,” says Kevin Lilly. “We can build things organically without having to worry about quarterly earnings estimates.”