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Scripps Buys GAC from Jones

10/13/2004 4:05 AM Eastern

Great American Country, with its Americana feel and adult demographics, is actually a good fit for E.W. Scripps Co., which is acquiring the independent network for $140 million in cash, officials said Wednesday.

E.W. Scripps, parent of cable unit Scripps Networks, also believes there’s plenty of room for two country-music-video channels to thrive -- GAC and Country Music Television, which is owned by Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks.

“We have broad experience creating programming that might enhance the feeling that already exists on Great American Country,” Scripps Networks executive vice president John Lansing said.

E.W. Scripps is acquiring GAC from Jones Media Networks Ltd. in a deal expected to close in November. The programming service will become the sixth cable network operated by Scripps Networks, which also has Home & Garden Television, Food Network, Do It Yourself, Fine Living and Shop at Home under its umbrella.

At this point, Scripps plans to keep 34 million-subscriber GAC -- which was launched in 1996 -- in Denver, and to keep on its staff and its president, Jeff Wayne, according to Lansing.

“We don’t view the network as being broken in its current state,” Lansing said. “Our point of view on the network would be: How we can bring value to it based on what we’re good at?”

Currently, GAC’s schedule is 70% videos and 30% long-form shows, anchored by strong-performing franchise Grand Ole Opry Live. Scripps will be looking for ways to “inject more personality” around GAC’s videos -- programming that’s either related to the artists or where the artists are from, according to Lansing.

“Certainly, the demographic target of that network -- women and adults 25-54 -- mirrors our other networks,” he added. “Also, hidden within the format of the music videos and the long-form programming is a certain point of view, sort of a Americana point of view, that we think has a good linkage to our other networks.”

He continued, “It’s a point of view that I think we can leverage through cross-promotion, perhaps. But more important, it’s something that comes from our core makeup as a company to create programming that really resonates with mainstream America.”

Scripps will not only be able to lend its long-form-programming expertise to GAC, but it will also have leverage to try to build its distribution -- something the country-music network lacked as a stand-alone.

The GAC purchase is expected to have minimal effect on Scripps Networks’ profit in the fourth quarter. For the full year, the acquisition is expected to reduce the unit’s profit by $5 million-$10 million. GAC’s total revenue for this year is expected to be about $12 million.

“We’re extremely proud of the contribution GAC has made to the growing popularity of country music and the country-music industry,” Jones Media CEO Glenn Jones said in a prepared statement. “In eight short years at GAC, we’ve created a broadly recognized television brand that we believe will flourish as a member of Scripps’ family of lifestyle networks.”

In buying GAC, Scripps intends to maintain cross-promotion arrangements between GAC and Jones Media through its subsidiary, Jones Radio Networks, an independent radio programmer serving more than 5,000 radio stations.