Landmark Communications, Inc. - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Landmark Communications, Inc.

150 W. Brambleton Avenue
Norfolk, Virginia 23510

History of Landmark Communications, Inc.

Landmark Communications, Inc.'s diverse media holdings extend into virtually every vestige of American life, reaching more than 55 million homes in 50 states through radio, television, newspapers and magazines, as well homes in the United Kingdom and Scandanavia through its European cable television channel. According to Advertising Age's 1994 edition of the "100 Leading Media Companies" in the United States, the Norfolk-based Landmark ranked 46th, climbing up a notch from 1993 with a six percent increase in total earnings. Though the bulk of Landmark's revenue came from its metropolitan newspapers (the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star, Norfolk, Virginia; the News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina; and the Roanoke Times & World-News, Roanoke, Virginia), television proceeds and recognition have steadily climbed since the launch of The Weather Channel and acquisition of The Travel Channel, KLAS-TV (Las Vegas), and WTVF (Nashville). Additionally, 75 community newspapers and specialty publications like Antique Trader Weekly, The Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, Military Trader, and Toy Trader maintain a stable readership. Landmark has also continued to explore other media ventures, co-owning Trader Publishing Company (a producer of classified publications, primarily automobile, located in Norfolk) and Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc. in Annapolis (publisher of the Washingtonian magazine and newspapers, including the Annapolis Capital). Expansions in the mid-1990s included Promotion Information Management, a business-to-business marketing service, and exploration of the Internet via InfiNet (a joint venture) and multimedia offerings on the Travel Channel. In 1994, Landmark launched Travel, based in London, with cable service throughout Great Britain and Scandanavia.

Landmark was founded by Samuel Leroy Slover, an enterprising gentleman immersed in the Virginia newspaper business for 55 years. A native of Tennessee, Slover migrated to Virginia in 1904, hoping to change his fortune. He had been the 20-year-old business manager of the financially troubled Knoxville Journal. Despite his efforts, the paper went bankrupt and Slover, then 22, assumed its liabilities ($36,400) as a debt of honor. After arriving in Virginia, Slover sold ads for a New York trade journal before approaching the well-connected Joseph Bryan, owner of the Richmond Times, for a loan to purchase a newspaper in neighboring Norfolk. Bryan, aghast, refused the young man. Slover, undaunted, asked to sell advertising for the Times. When he received a second rejection, Slover tried another tack: what if he sold ads, on a commission basis, to area merchants who were not current clients? With this proposition, Bryan had nothing to lose and everything to gain, so he accepted the offer and was soon rewarded with a multitude of new advertisers.

It was then Bryan's turn to make an offer to Slover--rescue a Newport newspaper from going under within one year and gain half interest in its ownership. Samuel took the challenge, triumphed, and was named publisher of the Newport Times-Herald. In 1909, relinquishing his title as publisher, Slover moved on to papers in Richmond, Petersburg and other cities in southeast Virginia.

During the next several decades, he dominated the state's newspaper trade, owning outright or controlling six of Virginia's biggest papers. His modus operandi was to swoop in and rescue an ailing paper, nurse it from red to black ink, then move on. Through Slover's machinations, small, struggling papers were often merged together to create large, healthier ones, usually resulting in hyphenated names like two of Landmark's backbone publications, The Virginian-Pilot and The Ledger-Star.

By centering his company, Norfolk Newspapers Inc., near a major military installation, Slover capitalized on the region's immense growth, not only with newspapers, but other media as well. In 1930, as the Depression deepened, Slover took a gamble and purchased Norfolk's WTAR-AM, Virginia's first radio station, for $10,000. Though many had little faith in the sensibility of an aural medium and even less in another experimental medium, television, Slover believed in both and was later responsible for bringing Virginia its second television station.

Throughout Slover's career, his exploits would prove both interesting and educational to his young nephew, Frank Batten, who joined the Slover household after the death of his father, Frank Batten, Sr., when the youngster was only two years old.

After serving in the merchant marines during World War II, Batten graduated from the University of Virginia in 1950 and received an MBA from Harvard in 1952. His initiation into the business world was fast and furious: he began as a reporter for the Ledger-Star, moved to the circulation and advertising departments of the Ledger-Star and Virginian-Pilot, progressed to vice-president in 1953, and was appointed publisher by Slover at the age of 27 in 1954. Having absorbed much under the tutelage of his uncle and mentor, Batten learned the ropes in record time&mdashcelerating his pivotal role in Norfolk Newspapers Inc., the forerunner of Landmark Communications. While Batten settled into his role as publisher of two of the area's most prosperous newspapers, Slover, 81, slowed down and contemplated retirement. He also sought to share the fruits of his illustrious career, by liberally offering stock to his employees. With Batten at the helm a mere five years, Samuel L. Slover died in 1959, at age 86, leaving Batten a vast legacy.

Like his uncle before him, Batten's prescience would firmly move Landmark into the future: just as Slover had envisioned the many possibilities of radio and television, Batten had been studying an extension of traditional television called "cable" programming. Batten considered cable a medium with vast potential and decided to invest in its promise. Within a year of his initial interest, in 1964, Batten acquired two cable franchises--one in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and a second in Beckley, West Virginia. These two stations were the cornerstone for the development of the TeleCable Corporation, of Greensboro, North Carolina, which would eventually operate 21 cable systems in 15 states, reaching 740,000 subscribers nationwide. TeleCable's success led to a bountiful opportunity for Landmark stockholders in 1984, when it was spun off into an independent corporation. In late 1994, an offer of more than $1 billion in stock was made by rival TCI (Tele-Communications Inc.), the largest cable-TV operator in the United States, to acquire TeleCable's assets. The deal was closed in January 1995.

In 1965, Batten further expanded the company by purchasing the Greensboro Daily News, The Greensboro Record, and a television station, WFMY-TV, all owned by the prominent Jeffress family. Landmark later combined the Greensboro papers into the Greensboro News & Record, which celebrated its centennial in 1990, and sold WFMY-TV. Two years after the Greensboro acquisitions, in 1967, Batten was named Landmark's chairman of the board. Within another two years, he was on the move again, this time acquiring the Roanoke Times & World-News in Virginia's third largest market (combined daily and Sunday circulation of over 240,000), bringing the Norfolk-based company's metro newspaper holdings to four. In the 1970s, Landmark also became home to community papers as well, including four dailies (Carroll County Times, Citrus County Chronicle, News-Enterprise, and Los Alamos Monitor); four tri-weeklies (The Gazette, Lancaster News, Kentucky Standard, and Roane County News); six semi-weeklies; 21 weeklies and 38 free "shoppers" available throughout the region and beyond.

In 1978, Landmark departed from its tradition of local and regional expansion by taking a leap to the West Coast, acquiring two television stations: KNTV in San Jose, for $24.5 million and KLAS-TV in Las Vegas, for $8 million. Though KNTV was later sold, KLAS, a CBS affiliate, became Las Vegas's top-ranked news station with 351,000 households, while another television acquisition, CBS-affiliate WTVF in Nashville, known as "NewsChannel 5" (purchased in 1992) delivered award-winning specials and highly-rated newscasts to 738,000 households. WTVF was also known for another distinction--the hiring of a college student in 1974 who went on to conquer the media industry--Oprah Winfrey.

Three years later, still seeking opportunities to expand the company in both scope and value, Batten considered another leap--this one into the national broadcasting arena. In 1981, the Landmark think-tank developed what is probably regarded as the company's greatest achievement--a 24-hour cable weather service called "The Weather Channel." In less than 10 months, plans progressed from paper to programming reality. "The Weather Channel was the most challenging task we had undertaken," Batten admitted. "It was Landmark's first national venture, with all the complexities of marketing and distribution a national enterprise must consider." Despite jitters and numerous naysayers from within and outside the industry, Landmark was determined to live up to its name while also providing the quality of the major networks. On May 2, 1982, the Weather Channel (TWC) officially debuted, with the expressed purpose of becoming "the nation's primary source of weather information."

Part of TWC's success was its universalization of the weather. Because everyone was affected by Mother Nature--an uncontrollable force--viewers could at least tune in, be informed, and prepare, which constituted a form of control in itself. Subscribers also appreciated TWC's format and flow: "Viewers can find a constantly varied presentation of scientific information, friendly advice, and spontaneous philosophy," said Andrew Ross, in his 1991 book, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits. Moreover, with programming Ross called "accessible, concrete displays of otherwise abstract weather events," viewers kept coming back for more, especially during catastrophic weather. Ratings skyrocketed during August 1991, as Hurricane Bob terrorized the coast; in March 1993 with the Northeast's unexpected blizzard; and again in December of the same year when snow once again threatened the East Coast.

TWC became a staple of contemporary programming, with what Batten termed "one of the most loyal consumer audiences in television." Numbers proved him correct: at any given moment in the mid-1990s 130,000 homes tuned in, while TWC programming was available to 56.7 million households that regularly watched its early morning and evening local forecasts, as well as a multitude of regular features (Boat & Beach Reports, Business Traveler's Reports, International Forecast, Michelin Drivers' Report, and Schoolday Forecast) and specials about weather-related health matters or seasonal hazards like hurricanes and tornados. TWC was available in 90 percent of all homes with cable television in 1995.

In 1990, Michael Eckert took over as president of what became Landmark's Video Networks and Enterprises Division. From 1991 through 1993, Paul FitzPatrick, formerly of C-Span, was The Weather Channel's president and chief operating officer. During that time, TWC's viewership increased from 48 to 56.7 million. By 1994, TWC's staff of 325 employees (65 as on-camera meteorologists or OCMs) used over $20 million worth of specialized equipment to ply their trade, including the state-of-the-art Weather STAR system, implemented in late 1993. The STAR system allowed TWC to insert local forecasts for the United States's 750 weather zones, along with tags from local advertisers, into the channel's continuous transmission.

Once TWC was firmly into black ink, its skeptics and detractors were silenced; but just until Landmark's next national undertaking, The Travel Channel (TTC). Founded in 1987 by Trans World Airlines to help sell tickets and regarded as the bane of the cable industry for its blatant self-promotion, Landmark acquired a 97-percent share of TTC in 1992 for $50 million. Though TTC had never shown a profit and continued to lose $7 million annually, Landmark increased its stagnate viewership by 2.5 million during a concerted media campaign in 1993. Up to 20 million in 1994, Landmark hoped selling TWC and TTC as a team would bolster subscribers even more. Both the Travel and Weather channels have won the attention of their peers and received cable ACE awards; in 1991, the Weather Channel was given the industry's highest programming accolade, the Golden ACE.

As the 1990s advanced, Landmark initiated the first of several new ventures, each in different directions. Mid-May of 1992 marked the acquisition of the nine-year-old Summary Scan! (renamed Promotion Information Management [PIM] in 1993), a tracking service of print media promotions (in-store circulars, coupons, direct mail, etc.) for packaged-goods manufacturers. Purchased from the Chicago-based Advertising Checking Bureau, PIM maintained offices in both Chicago and Overland Park, Kansas, selling its findings to customers on a weekly or monthly basis.

This year was also pivotal for personnel, as John O. Wynne was named corporate CEO in addition to his duties as Landmark's president; and E. Roger Williams joined The Travel Channel as president (and later CEO) after leaving ESPN. In 1994, Douglas Fox, formerly vice-president of marketing for the Times-Mirror Newspaper Group, was named COO for Landmark.

In the fall of 1993, further demonstrating its progressive nature and support of the underdog, Landmark's TeleCable Corp. was one of six cable operators agreeing to carry the new Fox network's programming in the fall of 1993. In June of 1994, the company went online by forming a joint venture (70 percent ownership) with another Norfolk-based company, Wyvern Technologies Inc., to create InfiNet, a service bringing Virginia subscribers access to the Internet. In a related move in September, the Travel Channel and Gramercy Pictures teamed up on the Internet to publicize a new movie, offer prizes and promote TTC's programming. At the same time, the Weather Channel was in the news too: CEO Michael Eckert announced plans for international expansion, and was also one of seven agencies financing a study in Central and South America on the media habits (reading, viewing, consumption) of 5,800 subjects in 19 Latin American countries.

In February 1994, Travel began in London. In 1995, it served nearly one million cable households throughout the United Kingdom and all of Scandanavia. Despite national and international expansion, Landmark remained committed to its roots--the local and regional customers who have always been the foundation of the company. To continue meeting their needs, "Our managers must have room to grow and freedom to respond to their audiences and communities," chairman Batten explained. "I don't want the future of the papers and stations we own to be dependent on me or a corporate staff. Most of our enterprises are local. They should have roots and personalities reflecting their communities."

In May 1995, Landmark announced plans to expand further internationally by launching a new Travel Channel for Latin America, which would appeal, according to a press release, "not only to those who travel, but to those who are interested in learning about the world." The company expected the new channel, based in Miami, to be on the air by October 1995. Another announcement during this time concerned the formation of a joint venture between Landmark and Knight-Ridder, Inc. The new company, InfiNet, was formed to "help newspapers into the Internet access and electronic publishing businesses," according to a Landmark press release. A Landmark spokesperson noted that InfiNet would help "newspapers establish services on the World Wide Web without their making a capital investment and provides an immediate revenue stream to publishers as a share of access fees."

By keeping one foot planted firmly in the past (reflecting the values and philosophy espoused by Samuel Slover) and the other stepping into the future, Landmark hoped to maintain its edge, its on-going quest for quality and the loyalty of its constituents. "With competition heating up and technology changing fast, the media that succeed will be the ones that build competitive advantage," Batten declared. "We have undertaken a systematic effort to be the most productive media in our markets and the best in responding to customers." Current president and CEO John Wynne concurred: "all of us ... are guided by this single mission: to pursue excellence in our products, our customer service and ourselves."

Principal Subsidiaries: News & Record; KLAS-TV; Landmark Community Newspapers, Inc.; Landmark Special Publications, Inc.; Promotion Information Management; The Roanoke Times & World-News; The Travel Channel; The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star; The Weather Channel; WTVF (TV).

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Further Reference

Davidson, Joe, "FTC Studies TCI's Proposed Purchase of TeleCable Corp.," The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 1994, p. A5."E.B. Jefress, 75, Dies," The New York Times, May 24, 1961, p. 41.Eisenhart, Tom, "People to Watch," Advertising Age, April 8, 1991, p. 42.Elliott, Stuart, "Defying the Skeptics, the Weather Channel Finds a Silver Lining in Mother Nature's Mood Swings," The New York Times, June 9, 1993, p. D19.Elliott, Stuart, "Seven Agencies Help Finance Study," The New York Times, September 4, 1994, p. D15."Fates & Fortunes--John O. Wynne," Broadcasting, November 2, 1992, p. 77.Garneau, George, "The Move to Alternative Delivery--A Success Story," Editor & Publisher, December 15, 1990, pp. 8-9.Gersh, Debra, "Landmark Acquires Marcol," Editor & Publisher, August 19, 1989, pp. 13-14."In Brief--Landmark Adds Travel to Weather," Broadcasting, March 23, 1992, p. 97.Kolbert, Elizabeth, "Conflict, Fury, Highs, Lows and Humidity,"The New York Times, February, 14, 1993, p. 29, 38."Media Moves--E. Roger Williams," Advertising Age, March 30, 1992, p. 8.Mehta, Stephanie N., "Small Fish Seek the Big as Internet Industry Consolidates," The Wall Street Journal, June 24, 1994, p. B3."100 Leading Media Companies," Advertising Age, June 30, 1986, p. S-45."100 Leading Media Companies," Advertising Age, August 8, 1994, p. S-2."Other Fields are Just as Green to Frank Batten," Broadcasting, July 19, 1982, p. 95.Patsuris, Penelope, "Wild About the Weather," TV Guide, September 5, 1992, p. 24."Personals--John Wynne," TV Digest, October 26, 1992, p. 10."Program Notes--Weather Channel," TV Digest, October 11, 1992, p. 10."Promotion Information Management," Advertising Age, January 18, 1993, p. 38.Robichaux, Mark, "If Snow is Forecast, the Tour of Tahiti Will be Irresistible," The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 1992, p. B3.Robichaux, Mark, and Novak, Viveca, "TCI Expected to Get FTC Approval for its Bid to Acquire TeleCable Assets," The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 1994, p. A2, A8.Ross, Andrew, Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in the Age of Limits, London: Verso Press, 1991, pp. 237-46."Samuel L. Slover, Virginia Publisher," (obituary) The New York Times, November, 30, 1959, p. 31."Six Cable Operators Agree to Air New Fox Network," The Wall Street Journal, August 2, 1993, p.B3."Summary Scan! Sold," Advertising Age, May 18, 1992, p. 37."TWA Agreed to Sell ...," TV Digest, January 20, 1992, p. 4."The Weather Channel," MediaWeek, July 18, 1994, p. 6."The Weather Channel to Expand," Adweek, July 18, 1994, p. 12.Williams, Debra Abe, "Taking a Safari on the Internet," Advertising Age, September 5, 1994, p. 14.

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