Young But Battle-Tested

Following Young Broadcasting's exit from bankruptcy in 2010, the local broadcaster is investing in its stations: hiring staff, upgrading equipment and rolling out local HD, with the latter concluding this week. Young president Deb McDermott is pushing a strategy that she calls a return to her start in broadcasting: "Entrepreneurial and innovative" general managers have the power to make more key decisions, instead of orders coming out of corporate, McDermott says. "Every market does not have to have the same commission structure or Internet program or new business program or structure to sales or news product. I think it's important that GMs can make changes and adapt."

Young also embraces the new: With a full-blown video journalism strategy, most everyone at a station is a reporter. McDermott spoke with B&C deputy editor Michael Malone about the Young game plan.

How is 2012 looking from a business perspective?

I think 2012 is going to be a good year. Political [advertising] can be very, very strong, and we've got a number of swing states—Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa. Local and national [advertising] look to be in growth mode; probably not double-digit growth, but we're probably looking at strong growth.

What's the thinking behind giving the stations more autonomy?

What's important for us going forward as an industry is that we have strong leadership at the station level, which is very similar to what we had 25 years ago in the business. We need to let [general managers] be creative and innovative so we can get the best success out of them from a content standpoint. We are content producers -- that creativity and that innovation is key.

Our facilities are [now] state of the art. Stations have the resources they need to be successful. We've automated and consolidated almost everything we need to at this point. It's given us a huge opportunity to think about where we are going and what we're doing and how to be signifi cant in our communities and be successful.

Is the company looking at potential acquisitions?

There isn't anything in the works. We're focusing on maximizing and developing our own television stations, making sure that they're successful and have the opportunity they need right now. There's a very strong balance sheet in our company.

Are the Young stations potentially for sale?

That is not in the cards for the near term.

How's the sale of the KRON building going?

It's still in the process. That will take a while. Right now it's just in the beginning stages.

Young staffers have been through a lot. Was there much work to do on morale at the station level?

Our general managers did an outstanding job during the bankruptcy in keeping their employees focused on what was important at the station and setting aside what was going on at corporate. That said, it was a very difficult time -- resources were slim.

Once we exited bankruptcy, with the influx of money to upgrade all of the facilities to state of the art, that's been a huge morale booster and has helped our stations focus on content, on innovation and creativity instead of, "Does the camera work?" I give full credit to my general managers for the success of those stations, and staying ahead as the company came out of this situation. We are very healthy and very strong right now.

With the Young family no longer part of the management, any thought to a name change for Young Broadcasting?

That hasn't been discussed.

Is Young at work on launching mobile DTV?

Yes. We're looking into how we're going to be part of that. We're working on the technology side of that right now.

Are you concerned about the FCC and the spectrum issue?

We are hoping the FCC will see the value of the spectrum.

What's the status on Young's deal with Gray Television to consult on the Young stations?

Gray is available to us if we choose to use them as a consultant through the end of 2012.

Where were Young's best stories coming out of the November sweeps?

We haven't received all our books yet. But we've had some really good success, particularly in Albany [WTEN] and Nashville [WKRN].

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Michael Malone

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.