Heated Birmingham rivals stay civil
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/16/2009 2:00:00 AM
The notion of Southern hospitality has long been celebrated, but stations in Birmingham, Ala., take goodwill seriously.
When the Big Three networks worked together on the Stand Up to Cancer event last fall, WVTM VP/General Manager Gene Kirkconnell wondered if it would be feasible on a local level. A few calls to his rival GMs, and plans were underway for the stations to do their own cancer benefit. “It was really cool to turn on the TV that night and see the three affiliates working together,” Kirkconnell says. “We're competitors, but that night we were fighting a common enemy.”
Indeed, niceness pervades in the No. 40 DMA. The big news is leader WBRC—Local TV swapped it to Raycom for WTVR Richmond in January, not long after acquiring it from Fox. Rivals insist that having Raycom in the market is good for everyone, perhaps raising ad rates for all. “Raycom is a solid broadcast operator,” says WBMA President/General Manager Mike Murphy. “It's good to know a seasoned professional will be operating the station.”
WBRC won total day household ratings in November, along with morning, evening and late news. President/General Manager Lou Kirchen does not expect Raycom to shake things up. “There's a huge commitment to the community here,” she says. “They always know we're here when they need us.”
Other stations include Allbritton's ABC affiliate WBMA, which won primetime; Media General's NBC outlet WVTM; New Vision's CBS affiliate WIAT and Sinclair's CW/MyNetworkTV duopoly. Charter is the main cable provider.
The stations are ramping up their game to compete with WBRC. Kirkconnell says WVTM was first in the state with local HD, which brought lots of samplers. The station will attempt to keep them tuned in with new program Daytime Alabama, co-hosted by traffic reporter/former The Bachelor contestant Brooke Smith.
WBMA is also playing up its local connections, with a high school football show Blitz Gameday and chat show Talk of Alabama, both of which launched this fall. “Montel went away, so we decided to make our own little show,” says Murphy of Talk.
WIAT, meanwhile, has grown ratings by adding local shows in place of paid programming. It debuted morning news in September 2007, and will produce the high school basketball and football post-season for a range of Alabama stations. “It looks like the first year of this will have significant impact on our bottom line,” says President/General Manager Bill Ballard.
Football passions run high—the Alabama-Auburn showdown posted a 73 share in November. “It's amazing how much people like their football,” Murphy says. “It's unlike anything else on this Earth.”
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