Martha Stewart President Looks to Transform TV Presence Without Live Studio Audiences

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Lisa Gersh says the company is talking to various networks and production companies as it looks to build a "leaner and more profitable TV business" by cutting out live crowds.

NEW YORK - As Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia pushes to turn a profit this year, the company is continuing to look at a range of TV and video options, but plans to do without live studio audiences in the future, president and COO Lisa Gersh said Thursday.

On the company's quarterly earnings conference call, she cited the reinvention and transformation of MSLO's TV/video business as one of four key priorities for 2012. The goal is a "leaner and more profitable TV business," and doing away with live studio audiences will help reduce costs as the biggest cost of MSLO's traditional TV model is the cost of producing a live show five days a week , she said.

The plan is to move to a  more modern cost structure now that video can be produced more cheaply, she said, reiterating that the company will let its lease on the show’s expensive Manhattan studio expire on June 30, which will save MSLO $5.3 million annually.

Asked by an analyst if the lack of live audiences would hurt the company's ability to use its TV presence as a megaphone and drive merchandising sales, Gersh said, "I am not sure there is a significance to a live show versus a non-live show on television, but Martha [Stewart] and [chef] Emeril [Lagasse] will continue to have a television presence in 2012 and, we believe, beyond 2012."

She added: "We're confident that the television presence will remain. The fact that there won't be a live audience after 2012, in all likelihood, we don't believe will impact our ability to work with our partners in any way."

While The Martha Stewart Show continues to air in reruns through late summer on the Hallmark Channel after the network declined to renew it due to its steep price tag, Gersh said MSLO is talking to broadcast and cable networks, including Hallmark, as well as independent production companies about potential new shows.
A key focus in evaluating options is "meeting customers where they want to find us," she said. Plus, the company will look to use both TV and Internet video in smarter ways.

Turning around the TV business is one key priority for Gersh and her team this year.
Driving advertising sales improvements via a bigger sales team and a more brand-centric sales approach, leaner operations and merchandising growth are the others.


Twitter: @georgszalai