Hurricane news is hot in diverse West Palm
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/28/2008 2:00:00 AM
West Palm Beach is an extremely diverse community economically, ranging from the mansions of Jupiter Island to the dodgy projects of Riviera Beach that pop up on Cops. One benefit of that demographic range is that all corners of the automotive spectrum—high-end, economy, domestic, foreign—spend well on local television. And amidst all the diversity, there's one topic rich and poor alike are interested in: “Weather, weather, weather,” says WPBF VP/General Manager Viki Regan. “We begin every news segment with weather.”
WPTV has ruled the market for decades. Strong weather coverage is key to winning the news game in the hurricane belt, and WPTV VP/General Manager Brian Lawlor says the Scripps outlet delivers. WPTV suffered radar damage when Hurricane Frances ripped through in 2004 and when Wilma showed up in '05; one positive was state-of-the-art replacement gear. Besides offering Weather Plus on a digital channel, WPTV has the HurricanePlus microsite, with emergency numbers and streaming video from Weather Plus.
WPTV won total day ratings, along with morning, evening and 11 p.m. news in the February book (WFLX won at 10 with an 8.2 household rating/12.7 share). “We have the most established talent in the market, and I think our weather presentation clearly stands out,” Lawlor says.
West Palm Beach television booked $145.3 million in 2007. WPTV led the pack with $47.9 million in 2006, per BIA Financial, ahead of Freedom Broadcasting's CBS outlet WPEC ($31.7 million), Raycom's Fox affiliate WFLX ($29.4 million) and Hearst-Argyle's ABC outlet WPBF ($25 million). Four Points Media owns the CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates.
The No. 38 Nielsen DMA has been hit by the nation's subprime mortgage crisis, but locals say it's affected mostly real estate dabblers looking to flip houses. Scripps' biomedical Research Institute is a major employer, tourism is the primary economic driver, and furniture remains a strong advertiser, much of it for vacation homes. Services and retail have been promising categories in the first quarter, managers say, though no one's popping the champagne yet. “Clearly things are not terrible, but I would not define it as robust,” Lawlor says.
With such a demand for weather information, it's no surprise that stations are expanding their news reach. Both WPEC and WPBF started weekend morning news in March, and WPEC introduced the market's only 7 p.m. local news in September 2006. “It's evolved over time,” says WPEC Executive VP/General Manager Brien Kennedy, who has a rookie news director in David Christopher. “It's had a nice little run the past year.”
Stations are also innovating on the Web. WFLX.com features streaming news as well as clips from TMZ. WPEC invites viewers to start blogs and post photos on Cbs12.com. WPBF recently introduced the “Beat the Traffic” program, and has a pair of “digital divas” poking around area hotspots on “Seen on the Scene.” Besides HurricanePlus, WPTV.com has a range of ad-supported video clips covering the news of the day.
Lawlor says WPTV has set the pace in West Palm Beach for some 54 years, and isn't ready to give up the lead anytime soon. “We continue to evolve,” he says, “and try to stay current with the audience.”
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