A generation ago, Plum TV would have been impossible and the concept likely considered insane by conventional business thinking.
But in 2007 it’s working in eight markets, including on the Vineyard. Now five years old, Plum local stations on Nantucket and in Aspen are profitable “and the Vineyard is close,” founding partner Tom Scott said on Friday afternoon.
Mr. Scott spoke after he and his band of 144 Plum colleagues concluded the company’s annual business retreat on the Island. The retreat is an annual affair, always held in a Plum market.
“When we began, people told us it takes five years to become profitable. Now with Nantucket and Aspen five years old, turns out they were right,” Mr. Scott said.
Channel 76, the Vineyard station, is more than three years old.
Noting that the company has been continuously acquiring new markets by startup (three) or by acquisition (five) since it digested the initial Nantucket purchase, the best barometer of success is by individual station performance over time, Mr. Scott said. He said the company declines to provide specific revenue and profit numbers.
The company operates in Vail, Telluride, Miami Beach, Sun Valley and the Hamptons in addition to the Vineyard, Nantucket and Aspen.
In conversation, Mr. Scott projects a balanced mindset of urgency and patience, wisdom and teachability and of simultaneously valuing roots and embracing change.
He’s used to it, essentially growing a water taxi cum delivery service in Nantucket harbor into Nantucket Nectars, a $59 million bottled juice drink business that eventually was sold to British bottler Cadbury Schweppes in 1998 by Mr. Scott and his partner Tom First.
Plum is a similar venture, an idea Mr. Scott found watching the Nantucket community dynamic.
“A new street sign is a big deal,” he said. “People care about that. I saw that a lot of Island people knew a lot of summer people and vice versa but not necessarily the same people.”
“There was no common way to communicate until Plum,” Mr. Scott said. “The story I’m proudest of was a controversy over installing a ramp at the Nantucket town dock during our first year. Seems simple but tension built up. We were able to bring both sides together efficiently on Plum and allow both positions to be heard. I like to think we helped to resolve the ramp installation.” Recent video, broadcast and web technology allow the Plum model to work, Mr. Scott said. “ People like to tell stories with cameras,” he said.
For example, Plum operates with eight staffers on the Island and produces 24-hour programming, including lots of local coverage and sharing of programming originated in other markets. The Plum Web site lists 21 regular shows on food, construction, design, exercise, ideas and commentary that are available to Plum stations.
Tina Miller, Channel 76 general manager since July, said that Vineyard architect Patrick Ahearn’s Island home show has been picked up by the Miami Plum station.
“The show quality is excellent and people in Miami are interested in the topic just as much as the Vineyard,” she said.
Industry buzz is that Plum programming is “TV for rich people,” Mr. Scott noted, but said that the average viewer is 41 years old in a somewhat blue-collar job.
“I’m 41 and I have those values,” he said. “It’s a lot like Nantucket Nectars. People told us it was a drink for rich people but we found the profile customer was a 27-year-old blue-collar male, exactly what we were at the time.”
“ Of the top 89 per cent of the country’s wealthiest people, only one-half of one percent come from inherited wealth. The rest came up from middle class. They earned it and they retain their values.
“As recently as 1980, 50 per cent of that wealth category came from inherited money” he said.
As an example of values held by the well-to-do, Mr. Scott recalled that he was selling Plum to a senior executive of Jeep.
“I showed him a clip from Vail with a local businessman in it and the Jeep top executive got all excited because he knew him, he talks with him,” Mr. Scott said.
Plum works incessantly at connecting with local community, to the point where the station schedules fresh programming of its own and from sister channels for each 24-hour period. “ You won’t see the same programs endlessly here,” Ms. Miller said.
Her example is Plum’s coverage of high school football, aired live by MVTV, “We edit, add replays, have ESPN-like quality and presentation and show it every night, Monday to Friday, at 7 p.m. for families to watch,” she said.
“We work hard here,” she said.
The blue-collar work ethic is essential, Mr. Scott said.
“When we were delivering scallop catches on Nantucket to the truck, we had to be there at 4:30, not 4:34,” Mr. Scott said. “He had a boat to catch.”