BY SEAN CALLAHAN
Last week’s deal to acquire the TV program "U.S. Farm Report… Town and Country Living" signaled that Farm Journal Media is again pursuing its aggressive multimedia strategy. It may also be a sign that acquisition activity in agriculture media is heating up as the sector rebounds.
Farm Journal Media announced Friday that it had acquired the program from Tribune Entertainment Co. for an undisclosed price. The 60-minute syndicated newsmagazine features news, agriculture-oriented weather and rural lifestyle features. It appears on a network of 190 stations, including 26 Tribune-owned and operated stations and WGN. About 700,000 households watch the program each week, according to Nielsen Media Research.
"It’s all about our multimedia effort," said Andy Weber, CEO of Farm Journal Media, which publishes magazines such as Farm Journal and Top Producer, operates the AgWeb Web site, and produces numerous events and newsletters. The deal also adds Ace Hardware, an advertiser not currently using Farm Journal Media properties.
"U.S. Farm Report…" joins two other key programs in the Farm Journal Media broadcast stable: "AgDay," a daily program that reaches as many as 200,000 households, according to Weber, and "WeekEnd MarketPlace," a weekly roundtable of commodities experts that is broadcast from the Chicago Board of Trade. "We can create [broadcast] reach and frequency packages with this combination that are—quite frankly—second to none in agriculture," Jeff Pence, Farm Journal Electronic Media president, said in a statement.
"The fact is ["U.S. Farm Report…"] has greater penetration than their existing properties," said Ted Haller, VP-media director for Osborn & Barr Communications, a St. Louis-based advertising agency with a number of agriculture clients. "Their existing properties were primarily in the Midwest and to a degree in the South. This gives them overnight penetration and presence across the country." Haller noted that "U.S. Farm Report…" has coverage in 97% of the country.
Farm Journal Media’s deal for the program suggested that the broader agricultural market, after a protracted swoon, is recovering. Weber said Farm Journal Media’s revenues are up 22% so far this year over last.
Weber said he expects the improvement to continue at least through the first half of the year, despite ominous economic signs such as rising petroleum prices and the widening trade gap. He pointed out that high gas prices spur ethanol production, raising corn prices. Additionally, China’s growing economic strength has boosted its need for corn from the U.S. "Agriculture can be counter-cyclical," Weber explained.
The sale of "U.S. Farm Report…" may also indicate that some agriculture media deals are in the offing. Weber said Farm Journal Media has considered but not pulled the trigger on 10 deals over the past 18 months. He said the upturn may spur some deals to be consummated.
"People were hanging on [until conditions improved], and some people can’t hang on much longer," he said.