Talk About the Weather
Sunshine State stations race to cover what's on everyone's mind
By Garth Johnston -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/12/2006 7:00:00 PM
Weather continues to be the top story in West Palm Beach, Fla., where news stations in Nielsen's No. 38 market are fielding new broadcasts and digital services devoted to covering the tempestuous tropical climate.
The market is dominated by Scripps Howard-owned NBC affiliate WPTV, which has been “No. 1 in the market for 52 years, since the day we signed on,” says VP/General Manager Brian Lawler.
When Hurricane Wilma blasted the region in October 2005, the station's radar was destroyed. WPTV now proudly touts its new 2 million-watt radar as the centerpiece of its aggressive storm coverage.
The station's HurricanePlus Website, featuring how-to videos on preparing for storms, has been popular with viewers, and WPTV intends to launch its NBC Weather Plus digital station in early 2007.
WPBF has an unconventional newscast at 4 p.m., the only news in that time slot. Anchored by a dual team of meteorologists and news anchors, Weather First plays to Floridians' obsession with weather in general and hurricanes in particular. Since debuting in July, the newscast (also available online) has drawn 56% more viewers than the syndicated show that ran in that time slot a year ago, according to station VP Victoria Regan.
The station has even made Weather First something of a calling card. “We begin every newscast with the weather,” says WPBF News Director Joe Coscis, “and then we deliver more-dynamic and more-relevant weather coverage throughout each newscast.”
WPTV's long winning streak can be attributed in part to the fact that its main anchor team has been together for 20 years. Although other local anchor teams haven't been so steady, they have settled into strong offerings in the past few years.
In the two years since WPBF reduced its sports coverage to stories that have a “local impact,” the Hearst-owned ABC affiliate has introduced an all-female anchor team for its 5 and 11 p.m. broadcasts, along with boosting its weather coverage.
Freedom Broadcasting's CBS affiliate WPEC reshuffled its anchors after adding a 7 p.m. newscast to the eight others it produces for itself and Raycom's Fox affiliate WFLX. Since Sept. 5, Katie Couric's first day as anchor of CBS Evening News, WPEC's 5 p.m. newscast has been anchored by Suzanne Boyd and Liz Quirantes.
“We felt Liz and Suzanne had great chemistry and play really well off each other,” says WPEC Station Manager Donn Colee.
The station also produces news Webcasts, which will be included in its Comcast digital multicast channel set to launch in mid December. And its 7 p.m. newscast, which has no news competition, has done well, averaging about an 8 share in households.
Thanks to an affluent population, local broadcasters enjoy a strong advertising market that was worth $131 million in 2005, according to BIA Financial. Spending on legal, retail and political advertising has helped to keep the market relatively insulated from the automotive downturn seen in other parts of the country.
With sweeps in full swing, West Palm Beach's newscasts are trying to attract all the eyeballs they can, especially to their early-afternoon broadcasts. Both WPBF and WPEC are running cash- prize competitions for viewers, with a direct-mail element.
“If you don't have Oprah as your lead-in, you need to work a little harder to get them in the tent,” says WPEC's Colee. Says WPTV's Lawler, whose station does have The Oprah Winfrey Show, “That's not a game we play. We just let our content and commitment to journalism speak for itself.”
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