Not Just Beer
Milwaukee's economy diversifies, stations score election bucks
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/24/2004 8:00:00 PM
A new economy is brewing in Milwaukee. Once known primarily for beer and polka music, the No. 33 TV market has a diversified business center. Manufacturing still plays a prominent role, but Milwaukee is also home to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and several large mutual-fund firms.
This year, TV stations are reaping the benefits of a record-setting political race. As a swing state, Wisconsin hosts presidential candidates or their surrogates almost daily. Stations expect to record $20 million in political revenue, nearly three times the level of 2000. "With the presidential campaign, a hotly contested mayoral race and a competitive Senate race, it makes for a very interesting year," says Frank Biancuzzo, general manager at Hearst-Argyle's ABC affiliate, WISN. BIA Financial Network estimates total market revenue for 2004 at $170 million.
WTMJ, locally owned by Journal Communications, is the longtime news ratings leader, but its numbers have slipped recently. The NBC affiliate fell into a tie with WISN at 5 p.m. in May (total households). WTMJ won both the 6 and 10 p.m. slots, but its late-news numbers were off about 20% from 2003.
WISN is Milwaukee's up-and-coming station. It ranks among the top ABC affiliates in the delivery of 25-54s during prime time and has recently added 51/2 hours a week of local news. In addition, WISN's late news features one of the nation's few female anchor teams.
Saddled with a weak UHF signal, CBS affiliate WDJT is a ratings laggard. Its 10 p.m. news finished in fourth place in May. However, WDJT will pick up Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune next year, after winning a bidding battle with WTMJ.
Sinclair operates the only duopoly. Its WB affiliate WVTV recently launched a one-hour 9 p.m. newscast using its "News Central" format, in which part of the program originates from the company's Maryland headquarters. Sinclair's UPN station WCGV does no local news but is affected by the broadcaster's recent woes over the Stolen Honor documentary.
Both cable and satellite penetration is slightly below the national average. Time Warner, the major cable operator, had considered launching a local cable news channel but scrapped the plan over the summer in favor of beefing up its video-on-demand service.
HUT levels (households using television) are relatively high compared with other markets, a sign that people prefer TV over other forms of entertainment. Says Biancuzzo: "It's a big city with a decent cost of living where people watch a lot of television."
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