Feb 23, 2021 - Economy

Scoop: Scripps plots new national TV lifestyle networks

E.W. Scripps Co. signage at the NYSE in 2016. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

E.W. Scripps is planning to create new national lifestyle networks that will leverage its recent $2.65 billion acquisition of national broadcast company ION, sources tell Axios.

The big picture: The company, founded in 1878, has managed to survive by gradually spinning off its newspaper business while simultaneously acquiring and then reimagining its television assets.

Driving the news: The networks will be managed by the group within Scripps that handles entertainment programming, according to a source familiar with the company's planning.

  • The company has begun to migrate multicast networks Bounce, Court TV, Court TV Mystery, Grit and Laff to the stations that it acquired from the ION deal, creating cost savings.
  • The networks will be available to consumers both over-the-air and via cable packages, which will presumably help them reach scale at the national level.
  • Scripps currently sells most of its television advertising at the local level via its local affiliate stations. New national networks would help the local news giant tap into a more lucrative national ad market.

Catch up quick: Scripps last month completed the acquisition of ION Media, a privately-owned broadcasting company, for $2.65 billion.

  • Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway helped Scripps finance the purchase with a $600 million preferred-equity investment.

The big picture: ION owns the country's largest broadcast station group and provides most of its programming to consumers via over-the-air broadcasting, a free method of TV consumption that's growing rapidly.

  • For years, ION has mostly filled its airwaves with reruns of popular programs like Law & Order that it can sell national advertising against.
  • Free over-the-air broadcast is a nice complement to those paying for lots of subscription streaming services and it's a cheaper alternative to cable.
  • Regulations require that ION networks be included on most cable packages, so Scripps can't charge cable carriers for distributing the programming, but it gets guaranteed cable distribution.

This dynamic gives Scripps' new networks a unique advantage. They will be available not only to the American households that still pay for cable, but also to the growing number of Americans that have cut the cord.

The bottom line: The new networks could compete with the lifestyle cable networks that E.W. Scripps spun off years ago, including the Food Network, Travel Channel, HGTV and others.

  • Discovery later went on to buy those assets, which today are core to its Discovery+ streaming strategy.

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