Ryman execs hatching global plans for Opry brand

Owners see big opportunity in distributing content beyond local performance venues

The owners of the Grand Ole Opry are drawing up plans to capitalize on Nashville's buzz and the entertainment attractions under its umbrella and put the business "electronically in front of the globe."

Chairman, President and CEO Colin Reed says his team knows it has unique content in the shape of music shows at the Opry and the historic Ryman Auditorium, which hosts a wide range of acts. Saying those shows are "not like going and buying a movie from Netflix or Blockbuster or Comcast," he sees opportunities to greatly expand their distribution along with capitalizing on the promotion Music City is getting from the ABC television show Nashville. (Ryman executive Steve Buchanan is executive producer of that series.)

"We are seeing a ton of demand into this market, people wanting to play our places and people wanting to visit our places. The opportunity for us is how we distribute and communicate that content outside the arena or outside the building it’s playing in," Reed said. "For the first time, people all across the planet are being exposed to the genre of music that is basically controlled in this town [...]  This is not like pulling a slot machine handle in St. Louis. This is about distributing content across the planet."

Reed and his team aren't ready to disclose any details about the direction in which they're headed. But the broader global push could involve a premium live streaming service or adding to the expansive archive of performances Ryman already makes available via the website of 650 AM WSM.

Ryman's Opry and Attractions Group — which also includes the Wildhorse Saloon and the General Jackson Showboat — posted a strong 2013, with revenues growing 8 percent to $76.1 million and adjusted EBITDA climbing 7 percent to $20.1 million.

Reed made his comments about the Opry brand's potential on a conference call discussing Ryman's fourth-quarter profits, which came in at $30.2 million, reversing a late-2012 loss of $15.0 million that included more than $40 million in REIT conversion expenses. Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter came in at $69.5 million, up from $62.8 million, with hotel occupancy rates climbing 2.6 points to 70.3 percent.

The company also announced that its board has increased its quarterly dividend to 55 cents from 50 cents. The first larger payout will be made in mid-April to shareholders as of March 28. Based on Friday trading, the move will take the stock's yield to about 5.2 percent.

At about 1:35 p.m., shares of Ryman (Ticker: RHP) were up about 0.5 perent to $42.29. They're basically flat over the past three months.