Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. History

Address:
3415 University Avenue
St. Paul, Minnesota 55114
U.S.A.

Telephone: (612) 646-5555
Fax: (612) 642-4103

Private Company
Founded: 1923
Employees: 1,450
Sales: $400 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 4833 Television Broadcasting Stations

Company History:

Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. (HBI) operates one of the few remaining large family-owned television companies in the nation. The value of Twin Cities-based KSTP-TV alone has been estimated at a quarter of a billion dollars. HBI is the majority shareholder of United States Satellite Broadcasting Company Inc. (USSB), a direct broadcast satellite company, and serves as managing general partner of Conus Communications, an innovative satellite-based news gathering organization. The Hubbard family's broadcasting legacy spans three-quarters of a century.

Roots in Local Radio and Television: 1920s to 1960s

Minnesota native Stanley E. Hubbard, a pioneer of commercial radio and television broadcasting, established his first radio station in 1923. "WAMD--Where All Minneapolis Dances--broadcast part-time because Hubbard had to leave the microphone every few hours to go and sell advertising," wrote Kathy Haley in a 1997 Broadcasting & Cable article.

Interested in expanding his news coverage, Hubbard started his own news gathering bureau in 1925; Associated Press and United Press International did not yet serve the fledgling radio industry. WAMD merged with KFOY in 1928 to form KSTP. Hubbard broadcast the vaudeville acts of such performers as Jack Benny and the Marx brothers, live sporting events, and educational programs.

Among the first on the scene when television technology was being introduced, Hubbard experimented with closed-circuit broadcasts beginning in 1938 using one of the first RCA cameras. RCA formally presented television to the public during the 1939 New York World's Fair. World War II slowed development of commercial television, but in 1948 KSTP-TV began broadcasting.

KSTP-TV accumulated a series of firsts in the 1950s and early 1960s: the first television station between Chicago and the West Coast; the first independently owned NBC affiliate; the first station to carry a late evening local news program seven nights a week; and the first to do all-color broadcasting. Those early days of television were filled with sensational spot news stories, and Hubbard was known for aggressively seeking them out.

Hubbard expanded beyond the Minnesota borders late in the 1950s when he acquired a radio and television station in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In 1962, Hubbard Broadcasting Inc. was formed with Stanley E. Hubbard as president and general manager and son Stanley S. Hubbard as vice-president. Stanley S. Hubbard, who had been in and around the broadcasting business since his childhood, had come on board full-time in 1951.

Stanley S. Hubbard began making his own mark on the television industry in the 1960s with an operation in St. Petersburg, Florida. "Few independent station owners made money at all in 1968 and none had succeeded in making a go of a UHF in an all-VHF market, but the younger Hubbard had WTOG turning a profit within two and a half years," wrote Haley. Hubbard transformed the station by adding a much larger transmission tower and investing in popular programming.

A Change of Leadership: 1970s

Minneapolis/St. Paul was a competitive market: both radio and television stations fought for the all-important ratings leadership. In the early 1970s, KSTP was losing ground to WCCO on both fronts. Stanley S. Hubbard brought in Marion, Iowa-based media consultant Frank Magid to help turn the tide. The action--initially opposed by founder Stanley E. Hubbard--"ushered in what was perhaps KSTP-TV's most successful era," according to Sandra Earley.

Among significant changes in the TV end of the business, according to Early, were the move to "personality driven newscasts" and the switch from the standard film format to easier to use videotape. The radio station switched to a rock-and-roll format and dropped its lengthy affiliation with NBC. The control of the business had clearly shifted from father to son.

A 1981 Broadcasting magazine article estimated Hubbard Broadcasting's worth at $200 million or more. The Hubbards owned three television and five radio stations, a marine radio-supply company, a production company, and a 148-room Miami Beach hotel. While often soundly criticized regarding their treatment of employees, the Hubbards were "held in generally high regard by other station owners," wrote Karl Vick in a March 1981 Corporate Report Minnesota article.

In 1984, continuing in their tradition of industry firsts, Hubbard Broadcasting initiated a satellite news gathering organization independent of the big three networks--ABC, CBS, and NBC. Conus (Continental U.S.) Communications bought and leased satellite transponders and then offered satellite access and newsfeeds to member stations. F&F Productions, a Hubbard subsidiary specializing in remote production, built the first satellite news gathering truck using the new Ku-band satellite technology.

Live offsite broadcasts became a practical reality for smaller stations. The C-band satellite systems in use at the time required huge receivers and were tightly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) due to their disruptive effect on other signals, and ground-based microwave signals had a limited range and needed a clear pathway. Conus gained 60 member stations within the first few years of operation.

Direct Broadcast Satellite: 1980s-Early 1990s

Stanley S. Hubbard was a true-believer in the efficacy of satellite broadcasting, and his horizons expanded beyond news gathering applications. Back in 1981, when Hubbard Broadcasting was granted one of the first direct broadcast satellite (DBS) licenses, he had begun formulating plans for an advertising-supported home satellite service. The satellite-to-home concept had been tossed around since the early 1960s when Congress created the Communications Satellite Corp. (COMSAT).

The public effort to build a commercial television system around satellite technology failed due to lack of outside support and COMSAT was disbanded in the mid-1980s. Prudential Insurance, General Instrument, and shopping center developer Francesco Galesi formed United Satellite Communications in 1983 but had fewer than 10,000 subscribers when it folded a few years later, according to a 1991 Forbes article by Graham Button. SkyCable was scratched in June 1991. But Hughes continued to develop the technology and linked up with Hubbard.

United States Satellite Broadcasting (USSB)--a subsidiary of Hubbard Broadcasting formed in 1981--was also having trouble getting its satellite service off the ground. USSB reformulated its earlier plan to include a mix of advertising, subscription, and pay-per-view programming to be transmitted via two RCA satellites and launched by 1988. But lack of financing foiled the endeavor. Many of the most promising potential investors were already involved in cable--a direct competitor to the satellite service--and others doubted Hubbard could succeed where much larger contenders had failed.

But Hubbard persisted. Nationwide Mutual Insurance, Pittway Corp (a fire alarm maker), and media investor Burt Harris came aboard as investors in the late 1980s. Technological advances improved the odds for success. Digital compression hiked the number of television channels that could be carried by a single transponder, and higher-powered satellites allowed receiver size to be greatly reduced.

In 1991, General Motors' Hughes Aircraft sold five of 16 transponders on its broadcast satellite to Hubbard in a deal valued at more than $100 million. DBS skeptics were quick to point out the market was already largely wired for cable service, and the initial cost to the consumer&mdashout $700 for a receiving dish and signal converter--was much higher than cable. Furthermore, unlike cable, DBS did not transmit local programming.

But Hubbard and other DBS supporters declared the higher capacity digital signals provided far better sound and picture quality than the standard analog signal used by cable and broadcast television. Cable companies themselves were gearing for costly upgrades to fiber optic cable which would carry digital signals and boost channel capacity. Moreover, many cable customers had grown frustrated with persistent service problems.

Thomson Consumer Electronics, a division of France-based Thomson S.A., developed and produced the 18-inch receiver and the converter under the RCA brand name. The consumer-friendly dish could pick up both USSB and Hughes's DirecTV signals. Competitor Primestar, which began service in 1990, required a higher-priced, larger, professionally installed dish and offered fewer channel choices.

Although they shared a satellite and receiving system, USSB and DirecTV were in competition for subscribers. DirecTV had more channels at its disposal than USSB, but Hubbard quickly acquired the right to carry popular premium channels such as Home Box Office (HBO), Showtime, Cimemax, and the Movie Channel. USSB planned to offer the All News Channel, a joint venture between Conus and Viacom International, as well. DirecTV got the jump on rural distribution when the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative purchased the right to market the service to electric and phone customers. Areas that were not wired for cable were an important source of customers for both companies.

USSB began broadcasting satellite television service in June 1994 aided by funds from Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, Dow Jones & Company, and Wall Street investor George Soros. More than a half million receiving systems were sold in the first year, making DBS the fastest-selling new consumer electronics product in U.S. history. USSB signed on more than 300,000 subscribers. Hubbard's vision had become a reality. He received further recognition for his accomplishments in 1995, when he and his late father were handed the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters for their work in radio, television, and DBS.

The once scorned DBS became the darling of investors. In January 1996, AT&T paid $137.5 million for 2.5 percent of DirecTV, and MCI Communications Corp. and News Corp. paid $682.5 million for a DBS license. The activity boosted the value of satellite broadcasters' stock just as USSB prepared to make an initial public offering. USSB raised $224.1 million in February. The newly public company was valued at more than $3 billion, and the Hubbard family held more than 50 percent of the shares.

Expectations were sky high. But the early phenomenal growth rate cooled. USSB stock price fell steadily from a high of about $37 shortly after the IPO to about $11 per share just over a year after the offering. USSB lost $237 million in its first two and one-half years of operation. "The skeptics are again ascendant. Wall Street analysts, who have recently called for the sale of USSB, say that the company's value lies in the five transponders it owns on a satellite, not in its 1.2 million subscribers," Sandra Earley wrote in a May 1997 article.

Pointed Toward the Future

While new satellite companies geared up--EchoStar Communications (DISH Network) merged with ASkyB and MCI Communications Corporation announced a partnership with News Corp. in 1997--cable remained USSB's main competition. The Digital Satellite Systems (DSS) which USSB shared with DirecTV were found in about 3.3 million U.S. households at the end of 1997 compared with tens of millions of cable subscribers. USSB continued to fine-tune its service in order to place itself in the best possible position in the market and contracted with Lockheed Martin for additional satellites.

A third generation of Hubbards was prepared to lead the family enterprises into the 21st century. Stanley E. Hubbard II served as president and CEO at USSB. Robert W. Hubbard led the television operation. Ginny Hubbard Morris headed the KSTP-FM and AM radio operations. The three were actively involved in the day-to-day affairs of the business and two other siblings all held spots on the HBI board. (Hubbard concerns included KSTP-TV and Conus Communications in Minneapolis/St. Paul; seven television stations located in Minnesota, New Mexico, and New York; a television production company in Florida; and USSB and the radio stations.) Expanding use of digital technology, and the entry of electric utilities and telephone companies into market were among the changes taking place in the industry. But the Hubbard family faced the future with 75 years of experience behind them.

Further Reading:

  • Alexander, Steve, "Hubbard's Satellite TV Subsidiary to Go Public," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 2, 1995, p. 1D.
  • Bork, Robert H., Jr., "Conus the Barbarian," Forbes, November 4, 1985, p. 111.
  • Brinkley, Joel, "As Digital TV Arrives, Cable's Picture May Not Be So Clear," New York Times, May 5, 1997.
  • Button, Graham, "Stan Hubbard's Giant Footprint," Forbes, November 11, 1991, pp. 344-50.
  • Chanen, David, "Stan Hubbard, Broadcasting Pioneer, Dies at 95 in Florida," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), December 29, 1992, p. 1A.
  • Covert, Colin, "In Twin Cities, the Digital Picture Is Still Fuzzy Among Broadcasters," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 4, 1997.
  • Earley, Sandra, "Stan the Man," Corporate Report Minnesota, May 1997, pp. 33-43.
  • Fiedler, Terry, "They Said Hubbard's Idea Couldn't Fly," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 12, 1996, p. 1D.
  • ------, "USSB to Drop Lifetime, 6 Other Channels in Favor of More Movies, Pay TV," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 7, 1998, pp. 1D, 5D.
  • Fiedler, Terry, and Ann Merrill, "USSB Prepares for Initial Public Stock Offering," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 30, 1996, p. 1D.
  • "Fifth Estate," Broadcasting, November 23, 1981.
  • Gross, Steve, "Hubbard's TV Venture Via Satellite," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 14, 1993, p. 1D.
  • Haley, Kathy, "The Pioneering Spirit of the Hubbard Family," Broadcasting & Cable, March 31, 1997, pp. S1-S15.
  • "Hubbard Broadcasting Inc.," Corporate Report Fact Book 1998, p. 574.
  • Kearney, Robert P., "Shine On, Stanley Hubbard," Corporate Report Minnesota, June 1986, pp. 43-46.
  • Lambert, Brian, "Family Channels," St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 26, 1998, pp. 1E, 4E.
  • Madison, Cathy, "Launching into National Orbit," Twin Cities Business Monthly, April 1994, pp. 27-31.
  • Merrill, Ann, "Hubbard's Full Cupboard," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 21, 1995, p. 1D.
  • Montgomery, Leland, "Cable's Death Star," Financial World, May 11, 1993, pp. 32-33.
  • Schmickle, Sharon, "No Smooth Transition for High Definition TV," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), September 22, 1997.
  • Scully, Sean, "Countdown to DBS," Broadcasting & Cable, December 6, 1993, pp. 30, 34.
  • "United States Satellite Broadcasting Company Inc.," Corporate Report Fact Book 1998, p. 498.
  • Vick, Karl, "The Life and Prime Times of Stanley S. Hubbard," Corporate Report Minnesota, March 1981, pp. 85-88, 120-26.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 24. St. James Press, 1999.