The Doctor Is In
Stations look for an edge with news and Dr. Phil
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/1/2006 8:00:00 PM
Pittsburgh's top broadcasters are locked in a three-way battle this fall, and each has a different plan for edging out the others. While ABC affiliate WTAE has shuffled its news team, NBC affiliate WPXI has been extending its news brand on other stations. And in an effort to cement its longtime lead, CBS-owned KDKA has turned to Dr. Phil.
KDKA wins the key 6 and 11 p.m. time slots. But in morning, early- evening and late news, less than one or two rating points in households and key demos might separate KDKA from its rivals.
The station's major play for the fall has been to poach Phil from WTAE, where it ran at 10 a.m., and to position the syndicated powerhouse as a 3 p.m. lead-in to its news block in the highly competitive early-evening daypart.
“We are very optimistic about the show's value as a lead-in with households and demos,” says KDKA General Manager Chris Pike.
In May, the station tied WTAE for top ratings in 5 p.m. news and won 6 p.m. by less than two rating points. Phil is already contributing, Pike says. Since the show's debut earlier this month, ratings are up for the time slot and newscasts.
WTAE, meanwhile, has shaken up its anchor lineup since winning the prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award for overall excellence in news last year. Over the summer, the Hearst-Argyle station promoted morning anchor Wendy Bell to the key 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts and bumped former 11 p.m. anchor Michelle Wright to noon and 5 p.m.
The station has also pushed out veteran late-news anchor Scott Baker, replacing him with 6 p.m. co-anchor Mike Clark.
For its part, Cox Broadcasting's WPXI has worked to find new outlets for its news product. In January, the station began producing a 10 p.m. news for Sinclair Broadcasting's Fox affiliate WPGH, which cancelled its own 10 p.m. show last fall.
In its first ratings book, last May, the WPXI-produced newscast was No. 1, outdrawing a 10 p.m. show that KDKA produces for its sister station, The CW affiliate WPCW. (Sinclair owns Pittsburgh's other duopoly, WPGH and MyNetworkTV affiliate WPMY.)
WPXI also delivers two live newscasts for a local Cox-owned cable news channel.
“It is important to expose our brand to audiences where it hasn't been seen before,” says General Manager Ray Carter.
In May, independent station WGBN, which airs movies, sports, and religious and kids shows, added two-minute local-news updates in primetime produced by Independent News Network, a third-party supplier.
Local broadcasters in Nielsen's No. 22 market took in $212.7 million in gross revenue last year, down from $214.7 million in 2003, the previous non-political year.
Station managers say the ad market has been challenged this year in part by a soft automotive market and consolidation in banking and retail sectors.
Political advertising has been a bright spot, however, with a closely watched Senate race between Sen. Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey.
The gubernatorial contest between Democrat incumbent Ed Rendell and challenger Lynn Swann (a former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver) also has sparked spending.
“We have two of the hottest races in the country,” says KDKA's Pike. “Political has tightened the market significantly in the second half of the year.”
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