Scott Blumenthal likes to tell the story of his early days in the business, as a $65-a-week cameraman at WTWO in Terre Haute, Ind. He was gazing out the break-room window as a new station erected its broadcast tower off in the distance, but his reverie was broken when a large, laconic assistant general manager by the name of Bob Beall wandered in.
Beall was known around the station as being just a tad gruff. “Everyone said stay away from Bob,” says Blumenthal with a laugh.
A conversation ensued, Beall thawed a bit, and Blumenthal began to pepper him with questions about the new station down the block—questions about ad rates and knowing what programming might find a substantial viewership in the market.
Taken by the youngster's curiosity, Beall told Blumenthal to swing by his office later, and handed over a tattered station-biz primer bearing a title along the lines of “How to Analyze a TV Market” that comprised some 30 pages.
“That man probably taught me more and gave me more opportunities than anybody,” says Blumenthal, who has carved an impressive 30-year career in the television business.
Working under Beall's tutelage, Blumenthal made his way up the ranks—producing, directing, and doing sales and marketing before Beall essentially “fired” him from WTWO and sent him to the larger WRTV in Indianapolis. “He said, 'It's time for you to go,'” recalls Blumenthal. “'You're not going to spend your life in Terre Haute.'”
These days, Blumenthal oversees 29 LIN stations and has trained his curiosity on the range of new media greeting the station business. As LIN executive VP of television, Blumenthal has indeed seen the business from just about every angle. Besides toiling at WTWO and WRTV, he founded an ad agency, but sold his share after learning how much he missed the buzz of the station business. Running LIN's station in Indianapolis, WISH, from 1999 to 2002, Blumenthal was then tapped to move up to corporate.
“Scott's done it all—he understands virtually every aspect of the business,” says Steve Ridge, president of TV at research firm Frank N. Magid Associates. “As a senior corporate manager, he's got a distinct advantage in that he can drill down deep at every level, and people know they can't give him a BS answer.”
These days, Blumenthal is tasked with plotting LIN's digital future, whether it's creating “microsites” dedicated to local interests such as high school football and nightlife; overseeing the launch in the next few weeks of station sites dedicated to statewide politics, from president to town council (the URLs include RhodeIslandpolitics.tv and Indianapolitics.tv); or coming up with engaging uses for the stations' digital channels.
One significant project for the digital space is “in the developmental stage,” says Blumenthal, who won't share details but indicates it'll be more local than other digital offerings. “We don't believe second channels should be for reruns and evergreen programming,” he says. “This will be something much more relevant to the local marketplace.”
He's also bullish on claiming cash for retransmission consent from cable operators. LIN has been involved in a well-publicized spat that saw the company pull the signal of its NBC affiliate, KXAN Austin, from the homes of Suddenlink cable subscribers earlier this month. LIN upped the ante more recently by pairing with satellite provider Dish Network to offer gift cards inviting customers to break from the cable carrier.
Blumenthal hints at a busy 2008 on the retrans front. “We'll deal with them one at a time as [carriage agreements] come up,” he says. “We want to have legitimate partnerships that recognize fair value for our product.”
A Midwestern native with a sharp sense of humor, Blumenthal now finds himself in LIN's home base of Providence, R.I. LIN President/CEO Vincent Sadusky says his EVP offers the rare mix of extensive experience and a willingness to try new things as the broadcasting world steps into the new frontier. “Scott's a terrific change agent,” Sadusky says. “He said, 'We can't rest on our laurels—we have to keep looking toward the future.' He's very much a part of our team as we reinvent local television stations to be the premier local media sites in their community.”
While he loves having a hand in dozens of local markets, Blumenthal does cop to missing his days focusing on just one station where he can truly make a local connection. “You have the opportunity to really get involved in the community, and get to know the leaders of the community and make a difference,” he says. “I'm a bit jealous of our general managers who do a good job of that.”
When he's not working alongside those GMs, engaging in skull sessions with Sadusky or chairing the CBS Board of Affiliates, Blumenthal enjoys golf, trying new restaurants and simply spending downtime with his wife in Indianapolis. He describes himself as “an insane viewer of television” who enjoys programs that suit his “sick sense of humor”—shows such as The Larry Sanders Show and Two and a Half Men.
To be sure, the key to keeping the LIN stations ahead in the digital revenue race won't likely be found in Beall's old primer. (For the record, Blumenthal tried to connect with Beall via the mail several years ago, but the letter failed to reach him.) But amidst all the technological breakthroughs, Blumenthal's primary concern remains keeping the viewer/broadcaster relationship intact. “People grow up and get more sophisticated in their use of technology,” he says. “It's our job to make sure we stay relevant to them.”
After three decades and countless positions in the industry, Blumenthal says the new challenges keep things fun. “It's been a great career,” he says. “It's just always been interesting—I've never felt like I've had a job.”
To see a gallery of Fifth Estater caricatures, click here.
Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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