All Eyes on the Skies
In West Palm Beach, weather is huge
By Allison Romano -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/10/2005 8:00:00 PM
Florida Beach Party for Viacom
On this sunny stretch of Florida's east coast, the threat of hurricanes is always top-of-mind, and with good reason. Last September, two major hurricanes within three weeks battered the West Palm Beach area, and stations were pushed to the limit. Broadcasters maintained live coverage, even as they battled damage to their own buildings. News of the storms and their aftermath dominated newscasts for months.
Now, with the 2005 hurricane season fast approaching (June 1-Nov. 30), local broadcasters in the 39th-largest TV market say they will be ready. “Weather is huge here,” says Brian Lawlor, VP/GM for Scripps Howard NBC affiliate WPTV, the market's top-rated station. “Even with all our years as No. 1, if we are not there for a hurricane, it is over.” After losing its weather radar tower in the storms, WPTV recently switched on a new million-dollar tower.
Freedom Broadcasting's CBS affiliate WPEC and Hearst-Argyle–owned ABC affiliate WPBF want to work weather to their advantage, too. WPEC, the second-placed news station, recently upgraded its weather radar, and WPBF now begins its news with forecasts.
The market stretches from tony Boca Raton north to booming Treasure Coast and Fort Pierce. Per-capita income averages about $24,729, just slightly less than San Francisco, the city with the highest average, according to Demographics USA. West Palm is also growing, so construction and retail are thriving. WPEC Station Manager Donn Colee says last fall's storms have not hurt the economy: “Tourism is through the roof, and housing prices are strong.”
In 2004, local broadcasters pulled in $132.5 million in gross revenues, according to BIA. Heavy campaign spending helped, but the market is just healthy. Auto spending is strong; even Mercedes, Jaguar and Rolls Royce are advertising heavily.
In the news arena, WPTV has long been dominant. That success continued in February, when the station won the key morning, early-evening and late newscasts. To keep its edge, Lawlor says, WPTV is building up its investigative team and hyping its weather gear.
Competitors are making inroads. WPEC, bolstered by CBS' prime time lineup, is improving, and WPBF is up at 11 p.m., thanks to ABC's resurgence. The Raycom-owned Fox affiliate WFLX offers a 10 p.m. news.
WPBF is trying another tactic to turn viewers' heads: Last spring, the station introduced a 6 and 11 p.m. anchor team comprising three women, an unusual grouping for any market. “It was an opportunity to do something groundbreaking,” says GM Viki Regan, who's also the market's only female general manager.
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