In his new job as an executive vice president of Cox Media Group, Bob Neil oversees WFTV-Channel 9, WRDQ-Channel 27 and The Palm Beach Post. As president of Cox Radio, he oversees 86 stations in 15 markets. Neil, 50, who works out of his Tampa home, spoke with TV critic Hal Boedeker.
CFB: What's your take on WFTV?
They've done a great job. You look at the newscasts, you look at the dominant news viewing. That doesn't happen by accident. There has to be a lot of good people behind it. It's very pleasing, but challenging because you have to keep it going.
CFB: How is television faring in this business climate?
It's tough. Last fall hit a reset button for everyone in media. It turned the clock back to 1999 for market revenue numbers. You're still paying people at 2009 kind of levels and trying to get control of expenses. You can roll that back a little bit, but you can't roll everything back to 1999 levels from an expense standpoint. It's a huge challenge. In television, we've weathered that storm pretty well. Cox is the kind of company that doesn't do a lot of knee-jerking. On the television side, we've had a few cutbacks; it hasn't been widespread among the journalists.
CFB: Is Cox committed to WFTV?
Absolutely. We've talked about: Where are there opportunities that we can grow? It's the great thing about being part of a private company. You don't have to worry, from quarter to quarter, if your numbers are off a little bit. You don't have people looking over your head screaming at you about expenses every quarter. I ran Cox Radio as a public company, so I know what that's all about. Went from private to public back to private. You just have so much more flexibility as a private company to make long-term investments.
CFB: What's the state of the economy?
There's definitely more activity. I know in the television and radio business, we've probably sold the same inventory we did a year ago, but it's been at significantly lower prices.
CFB: What was the low point?
I would have said March, April of this year was kind of a low point. I think we thought January and February would be awful anyhow, but in March and April, it just kept getting worse and worse.
CFB: What advertising is coming back?
Advertising is getting placed later than it's ever been placed. People are waiting month to month to see how their business is doing before they place. The car business is a little better. They're getting back in, but they're cautious. Telcom seems to be active again. In television there's a lot of issue advertising on health care.
CFB: Are you most bullish on TV, radio or newspapers?
I'm bullish on all three. Television will go into what is likely to be a very, very active political year, especially here in Florida. That's a help to television and a smaller help to radio.
CFB: Why did Cox divide up the executive duties this way?
Our company really believes in a decentralized approach to running our operations. My job is to help [General Manager] Shawn [Bartelt] get the things she needs to run the best television station. We don't operate under that imperial model where somebody comes in and says, 'You're going to do this, this and this.' It works the other way in our company. Cox has a deep-seated belief in decentralization. There's no way someone in Tampa or Atlanta can understand the business challenges of a TV station in Orlando. That's why we have good local managers to run those local businesses. I think sometimes when people consolidate they go to a fast-food approach: 'I want to run all the TV stations the same way.' That creates an unpleasant homogenization.
Hal Boedeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5756. Read Hal's TV Guy blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/tvguy.