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Thursday, December 23, 2021

When Philip Anschutz bought the San Francisco Examiner for $20 million earlier this year, I figured it would take some creative business strategy to revive the once-dominant paper’s fortunes:

Can he resurrect the Examiner to something close to its former glory? It’ll be tough. Hearst isn’t going to sit back and let its Chronicle dominance wither. It also depends on how Anschutz wants to play this game: Does he want to invest a ton of capital into this venture, perhaps making it a foundation for broader media holdings? I’m thinking he’ll have to take some unconventional routes to building the paper back up again.

It may not be that unconventional, but the application for local-area Examiner trademarks in 63 cities around the U.S. indicates that Anschutz is planning to use the paper’s brand as the foundation for a nationwide publication.

Philip Anschutz’s Clarity Media Group has applied for trademarks for The Examiner. St. Petersburg and The Examiner. Tampa, along with similarly styled titles for Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, New York, Philadelphia, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Palm Beach and dozens of other cities.

Anschutz spokesman Jim Monaghan described the filings as “prudent business.” He said the cities were selected because their demographics make them places the company might be interested in doing business.

“It’s a looking-for-opportunities type of thing,” he said. “I would not infer that anything is going to be happening any time soon.”

But the applications are intriguing because trademarks can have a limited shelflife. In order to fully secure a trademarked name, it must be used, raising questions about why Anschutz’s company would go to the trouble of protecting a name unless it has plans to use it.

And that’s the key: Even though it’s a minimal investment to get a trademark, the time limit attached hints at fairly imminent launch of product.

The question then is: What sort of product will it be?

Media observers say it is likely that any expansion would involve free products. Media broker J. Patrick “Rick” Michaels, who heads Communications Equity Associates in Tampa, said he considers it very unlikely that anyone would launch a third paid circulation daily newspaper in the Tampa Bay area.

“You’ve got the St. Pete Times and the Tribune killing each other,” he said. “I can’t imagine anybody in their right mind coming in here to start a paper.”

The Tampa Bay area also has numerous free publications, which typically are heavy on advertising and targeted to a niche market or a smaller geographic area. Some of those are owned by the Times Publishing Co., publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, including the recently launched tbt*.

Michaels said Anschutz might also have a Web-based publication in mind.

The pieces fit together too perfectly: Assuming these local Examiners are going to be targeted toward specific demographics — young adults, commuters, etc. — setting up a nationwide chain of publications would make ad sales a lot easier. Large advertisers like to target audiences almost independently of geography, because it streamlines the process. Buying ad space in a network of papers that has a single sales channel is preferable to dealing with dozens of individual publications and other outlets. All Anschutz would have to do is establish the papers in each market, which would be helped along via a healthy capital infusion and any synergistic opportunities with his other media holdings.

If this actually comes off in the Tampa Bay area, I’d guess it would bode ill for tbt*, the St. Petersburg Times’ recently-launched free weekly. It’s still trying to gain traction against the established Weekly Planet, so added competition in the form of a nationally-supported publication wouldn’t be welcomed. (The Planet wouldn’t like the competition either, but it’s got a longer track record to anchor itself.)

- Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/23/2004 05:59:16 PM
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