Hartford stations deliver hyper-local content
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 1/4/2009 7:00:00 PM
Depending on one's perspective, the Hartford-New Haven DMA is either a terrific pro sports market or a nearly non-existent one.
The market is a relatively short drive from the sports powers in New York and Boston, but doesn't have a big-time pro team to call its own. As such, interest runs high in University of Connecticut (UConn) and high school sports, and stations are innovative in how they sate viewers' hunger for the hyper-local.
WFSB's digital channel Connecticut Sports Network, a partnership with Connecticut Public Television, debuted in early December and recently aired high school football championship games. MyNetworkTV outlet WCTX shows high school sports, UConn football and basketball, and the WNBA's Connecticut Suns. “It's been a really nice opportunity for us,” says WTNH/WCTX VP/General Manager Jon Hitchcock, “on both a local and a hyper-local level.”
Like most, the No. 30 DMA is going through lean economic times. The region's popular casinos feel the pinch as people's entertainment budgets shrink. But positive things are happening. NBC O&O WVIT is building a facility that's slated to open in June. President/General Manager David Doebler says the “digital media center” will be state of the art: all HD, completely server-based, and able to shoot content to broadcast TV, the Web, mobile applications and digital channels simultaneously. “It'll be one of the most advanced local television stations in the country,” says Doebler, who adds that a rebrand will coincide with the grand opening.
LIN TV's WTNH and WCTX recently switched Web platforms to Fox Interactive Media's. The duopoly is active online, with a gaggle of microsites that includes HuskiesAllAccess.com (UConn's teams are the Huskies) and ConnPolitics.tv, and the mobile application MobileWTNH.com.
WFSB, meanwhile, recently launched digital channel WFSB Fairfield County, reaching Cablevision subscribers in the wealthy southwestern corner of the state. “It allows us to super-serve Fairfield County and get involved with the organizations there,” says WFSB VP/General Manager Klarn DePalma.
WFSB continues to rock in the ratings. Meredith's CBS affiliate won total day household ratings in November, easily grabbed primetime, and had the top morning, evening and late news. Indeed, it's a race for second: ABC outlet WTNH was runner-up in total day, primetime and evening news, while WVIT was runner-up in morning and late news.
WVIT has been for sale since March as NBC concentrates on its stations in Top 10 markets. The DMA is also served by Tribune's duopoly—Fox affiliate WTIC and CW outlet WTXX—which is boosting its news presence, including adding a morning program. Comcast is the dominant cable operator.
WFSB has succeeded on the backs of veteran anchors like Al Terzi and Denise D'Ascenzo, and sports guy Joe Zone's tireless dedication to high school sports. DePalma also credits the network. “I think CBS has done a great job putting new programming on the air,” he says, singling out The Mentalist.
As the economy sputters, general managers say their future lies in getting local content out across various media. “The economy's an immense challenge,” Hitchcock says. “But we try to be proactive and stay diversified with our various resources.”
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