GREENSBORO, N.C. - Jefferson-Pilot Corp., the insurance company that sprouted a communications subsidiary, plans growth in its broadcasting side that also targets regions slated for expansion of its insurance business.
The corporation has always been conscious that Jefferson-Pilot Communications Co. helped sell insurance, said John H. Hutchinson Jr., president of the TV division and general manager of WBTV in Charlotte.
Sports programming produced by the Charlotte-based communications subsidiary liberally used the Jefferson-Pilot name during broadcasts to build name recognition with consumers.
Jefferson-Pilot Communications president William E. Blackwell estimates it would cost the Greensboro-based insurance parent company more than $3 million per year to buy the advertising it gets free from its own communications company.
"It's so constant and so sustained that it's probably worth more than that," Blackwell told The News & Record of Greensboro.
The overlap has become more aggressive since David Stonecipher took over as president of the parent Jefferson-Pilot Corp. in 1993, company executives say.
The communications subsidiary will shop for stations and sell programming during the next few years, Hutchinson said. Its targets will be in fast-growing regions including the Pacific Northwest, Texas and Florida - sites that are also key markets for the insurance side.
The insurance company also has begun selling policies in Uruguay and Argentina. The communications subsidiary has contracted with networks in those countries to show U.S. ice-skating and gymnastic programs.
"If we can get the JP name out, it will help us sell insurance down there," said sports division president Edward M. Hull.
But it wasn't a desire to build name recognition that got the life insurance company into broadcasting.
The corporate legend is that Joseph Bryan, then president of Jefferson Standard Life, took over a small Greensboro radio station in 1934 after the station's owners abandoned it at the height of the depression.
Bryan, who had friends in the radio industry, had another reason to be interested in WBIG: it operated from the top of the Jefferson Building downtown. In the 1940s, Jefferson Standard added some CBS affiliates including WBT-AM in Charlotte.
"Who knows what triggered his interest in it. It's a good question because there's very little natural synergy between life insurance and broadcasting," Blackwell said.
The communication company now includes three divisions:
-a radio network that includes 16 radio stations in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Colorado and California.
-a television division that is developing its own programming and includes television stations in Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Richmond, Va.
-a sports programming division that holds the rights to broadcast Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and football, Southeastern Conference basketball and some auto-racing events.
Earnings at Jefferson-Pilot Communications have increased an average of 20 percent since 1990. Operating income jumped from $10.5 million in 1990 to $23.6 million in 1995, according to company financial statements. By the end of 1995, the communications side of the business represented 10 percent of JP's overall profits.
A list of radio and television stations owned by Jefferson-Pilot Communications Co.:
Source: Jefferson-Pilot Communications.