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ATL Business Chronicle

Column: TV still making green, Gray Television tells investors

By Maria Saporta
Friday, June 3, 2011

Broadcast television is alive and well.

That was the theme at the annual meeting of Atlanta-based Gray Television Inc. held on June 1.

“It has been pretty much of a roller coaster ride with the economy,” said Robert Prather, president and chief operating officer of Gray Television. “2009 was the worst year ever for the broadcast television industry. But 2010 turned out to be the best year in our history. And 2011 has started out better than many of us expected.”

Prather said the company has been working to pay down its debt and become more efficient in its operations. It also has been investing in converting its television stations to high definition and in developing a larger online presence for its properties.

Gray Television also continues to believe in having a dominant position in the markets that it’s in.

“Out of 36 stations, 24 are No. 1 in their markets,” Prather said, adding that during the dramatic weather this spring, its stations led the news coverage in their markets. “That’s what people really appreciate.”

One shareholder, Shaheen A. Shaheen, did question whether Gray’s management was focused on the company’s operations given all the other positions executives held with sister companies.

“I’m here seven days a week,” Prather said. “We’ve got the best operating metrics of any television operation in the country.”

Hilton Howell, Gray Television’s CEO, said that what was most important was the management at the individual stations. Plus, he said he viewed having multiple responsibilities as a strength.

But Shaheen said those attributes haven’t been reflected in the stock price.
“I think we are a victim of Wall Street abandoning old media like newspapers and magazines,” Prather said.

But that notion is wrong, Howell said.

“This is one of the best businesses in the country,” Howell said. “We operate with a true operating margin approaching 50 percent. With the advent of high-definition television, it has made our medium even more relevant. … When you look at the demise of the newspaper industry, the newspaper industry was our biggest competitor; newspapers hardly compete with us anymore. Now local news is provided by television.”

The two biggest shareholders of Gray Television — husband and wife J. Mack Robinson and Harriett “Nita” Robinson — were both at the meeting in their role as directors.

Former Georgia governor Zell Miller also is on Gray’s board but he was unable to attend the meeting in person because of a health issue. He did participate through a speakerphone. “I’m less than an hour away from you, but I can’t get there,” Miller said.

Fired up at Wells Fargo

In May, the city of Atlanta acknowledged that 18,507 free smoke alarms that had been issued to low-income families were defective because their labels were counterfeit and the units had not been properly certified.
A recall on those alarms was issued in mid-May.

Upon hearing that news, Wells Fargo bank decided to help. It has become the first corporate donor to help the city replace those counterfeit smoke detectors through a $12,000 grant from a Firemen’s Fund program. That will replace 1,500 smoke detectors.

The installation of the new detectors will begin Saturday, June 4, at 9 a.m. after a brief check presentation ceremony at Station 2 of the Atlanta Fire Department.

“Wells Fargo is proud to be the first corporate donor to help Atlanta’s Department of Fire Rescue replace the smoke detectors to help protect residents of Atlanta,” said Paul Lazar, senior vice president at Wells Fargo Insurance Services Inc., in a statement.

Community grants

The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has announced $1.2 million in grants to strengthen nonprofits in the 23-county metro Atlanta region. The foundation provided funding to 45 metro Atlanta nonprofits.

“A key area of our work at the Community Foundation is strengthening the region’s nonprofits,” says Alicia Philipp, the foundation’s president, in a statement. “We believe the way to improve our communities is by investing in smart solutions and passionate people who are already making significant changes.”

Among some of the largest recipients receiving two-year grants were: the Center for the Visually Impaired ($113,000); Jewish Family and Career Services ($100,000); the Latin American Association ($122,000); and Visiting Nurse Health System ($90,000).

In the first quarter ending March 31, the Community Foundation gave a total of $13 million in grants. During that period, the foundation received $10.6 million in contributions. The foundation’s assets currently total more than $740 million.

YMCA honors GivingPoint

The YMCA of Metro Atlanta will honor GivingPoint and its founder, Derek Smith (former CEO of ChoicePoint), and CEO Ansley Colby with its Technology Innovation for Youth Award at a dinner Saturday, June 4.

GivingPoint, founded in 2008 as a way to create a generation of passionate philanthropists, is a nationwide community-based youth development organization that combines innovative technology, social networking, meaningful service and immersion training for young people.

The event will take place at the Ed Isakson Alpharetta Family YMCA, and it also will recognize outstanding students in metro Atlanta and award two college scholarships funded by the Valerie Adams Memorial Trust.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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