Lifetime prez confirms move, buys stake in Petry

Backed with some of his own funds and some provided by others, Lifetime president Thomas Burchill has purchased a majority position in the country’s third largest television station rep firm Petry.

He will leave Lifetime at month’s end and take over at Petry immediately (Daily Variety, Jan. 4).

“Discussions had taken place over a period of time,” Burchill said yesterday, “and ramped up at the end of the year.”

Citing contractual clauses, he declined to discuss the percentage of Petry he will own or the amount of money changing hands. He did say, however, that some of the financing was coming from his personal assets and some was coming “from current management.”

At Petry, Burchill will be president and CEO. David Allen, majority shareholder before the deal, will remain chairman of Petry. In addition to Allen , other members of Petry management are shareholders in the company, some of whom are selling shares to Burchill.

Petry, the first of the rep firms to get into the broadcast television business, is the third largest in terms of annual billings.

The company annually bills more than $ 800 million to finish behind Katz — which, when combined with its recently acquired Seltel, is in the $ 1.2 billion range — and TeleRep Inc., which is estimated to have annual billings in the neighborhood of $ 1 billion.

There had been speculation that the 62-year-old Allen wanted to sell off his stake in Petry. According to the 50-year-old Burchill, Allen had been looking for a “generational change.”

Allen has been a shareholder in Petry since 1978. He became the company’s chairman in 1980 and at the same time acquired a larger stake in the firm.

“This was a coincidence of circumstances,” Burchill said about the deal’s creation. “David Allen was looking for transition in his company.”

For the future, Burchill said he’d like to see continued growth for the company. Part of that growth will come in new areas, which could include barter syndication sales and providing more services for stations. Getting into the cable end of the business, long talked about among the rep firms but feared by their clients, is not in the immediate future, Burchill said.

“I think Petry is very well positioned,” Burchill said. “I think the station rep industry will become more important in the ’90s. Stations will rely more and more on the friendly expertise of their station rep.”

Petry has been in business for more than 60 years. Back in the ’30s, Petry was in the radio representation business. Gradually, as television made its entry, the company became the first to represent television stations. Eventually , the company got out of the radio business to focus solely on television.

Burchill, who has been the head of Lifetime and its parent Hearst/ABC-Viacom Entertainment Services for the past nine years, worked as a salesman and sales manager in the radio wing of Petry.

No replacement for Burchill at Lifetime was announced. Doug McCormick and David Moore, group veepees at HAVES, will report directly to the board until a successor is named. McCormick is considered front-runner as permanent replacement atop Lifetime.

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