Market Eye: 'Beach' Blanket Bingo

WPTV-WFLX move in together in West Palm, while Sinclair adds 3 stations

Why This Matters

What’s Working in West Palm Beach

Oprah Winfrey’s departure from broadcast TV last fall set the wheels in motion for some big changes to the afternoon landscape in West Palm. WPTV slotted Ellen for 4 p.m. in place of Oprah. WPBF took Dr. Oz, which WPTV had aired at 3, and put Oz on at 4. (WPBF will addKatie Couric’s daytime debutante this fall.)

For its 3 p.m. hour, WPTV slotted RightThisMinute, the social media/viral video program that is a partnership between Scripps, Cox and Raycom. RightThisMinute is averaging around a 2 household rating/5 share, well below what Oz was earning last May. But Steve Wasserman, WPTV VP and general manager, says RTM is growing. “It’s competing in the time period,” he says.

RightThisMinute describes itself as “news you want to share.” Wasserman is hopeful more and more viewers continue to share the rookie show. “It had a slow start,” he says, “but the numbers are getting better.” —MM

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There’s an extraordinary number of moving parts in the West Palm Beach, Fla., TV scene. Almost exactly a year ago, Scripps-owned WPTV and Raycom’s WFLX took their relationship several steps further, from a news producing arrangement to a shared services agreement, with market leader WPTV handling everything but sales for Fox affiliate WFLX, and the remaining staffers moving into WPTV’s digs.

On May 29, Michael Garber, formerly news director at WTLV Jacksonville, took over as news director of the combined operation after Jeff Brogan’s move to Scripps’ corporate office.

Sinclair’s recent acquisition of the local Freedom Broadcasting and Four Points stations gives the group extraordinary reach in DMA No. 38 with robust CBS affiliate WPEC, CW outlet WTVX, MyNetworkTV-aligned WTCN and an Azteca America channel as well. Sinclair has not revealed its plans for West Palm yet, and its local management did not comment.

Steve Wasserman, WPTV VP and general manager, called the enhanced partnership with WFLX “a huge event for us,” with the newsroom taking on an additional 17½ hours of news a week, including a 4 p.m. broadcast on WFLX that debuted last fall. “It’s worked out very well,” Wasserman says. “We’re very separated in sales, and very unified with news.”

WFLX has its own general manager—veteran general sales manager John Heislman succeeded the retired John Spinola last June. WFLX began airing commercials in HD upon relocating. “It was a natural transition,” says Heislman. “I can’t think of any hiccups—it’s all good.”

For his part, Wasserman was recently given oversight of Scripps stations in Phoenix, Tampa and the corporate home market of Cincinnati. He is looking to hire a station manager at WPTV. (Speaking of Scripps corporate, Brian Lawlor, the group’s senior VP, used to run WPTV.)

WPTV was its usual monster in the February sweeps, winning the news races and total day household ratings, including 11 p.m. with a 6.7 household rating/12.6 share, ahead of WPEC’s 5.1/9.7. The adults 25-54 race at 11 was much closer. WPEC won primetime in February, as CBS affiliates typically do, but WPTV was a respectable second—rare for an NBC affiliate.

WPTV looked strong again in the May sweeps, closing the gap in primetime and extending its advantage in key news races at the midpoint of the ratings book.

Wasserman says the shared services agreement, besides kicking extra revenue to WPTV, has extended the station’s news brand in West Palm Beach. WPTV thrives on Scripps’ commitment to rock-solid journalism, he adds, especially given the deep tenure of its anchor crew, and a knack for minting new talent. “We’ve got a real consistent brand based on quality news coverage,” says Wasserman. “We also have several key long-term players, while also recruiting up-and-comers with the same quality level, or the potential to have that same level.”

Other stations in West Palm include Hearst Television ABC affiliate WPBF, which airs Estrella TV on its multicast tier and grabbed the syndicated Dr. Oz from WPTV last year. WPBF adds Katie this fall and boasts a robust digital strategy, which includes a free hurricane app that had almost 200,000 downloads in 2011, according to Caroline Taplett, president and general manager. "It took the market by storm, no pun intended," she says. "It completely exceeded our expectations."

Comcast is the major subscription TV operator. Gunter Marksteiner owns WHDT, an independent that swapped out RTV for weather news last fall, according to published reports. The station could not be reached for comment.

Real estate in southeast Florida remains soft. But tourism is robust, and visitors will increasingly include the presidential incumbent and hopeful in coming months. “We anticipate a pretty signi! cant political season,” says Wasserman, “Florida being the swing state that it is.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone