Market Eye: Capital Gains in Louisiana

Baton Rouge’s economy is diversifying beyond energy and government, and the local TV business is flourishing

Things are booming in Baton Rouge—in the market, and for the stations that ply their trade there. The Louisiana capital is DMA No. 93 in Nielsen’s rankings—and a stunning No. 70 in BIA/Kelsey’s revenue order. A diversified economy, going beyond Baton Rouge’s oil interests, has helped the big picture. And a robust election scenario means big spending on the stations this time of year. “It’s a very exciting time in Baton Rouge and at this station,” says Lee Meredith, WAFB VP and general manager.

Meredith arrived in early ‘14. Markets that encompass a state capital and a giant university, he notes, “just tend to be nice places to live.”

Raycom’s WAFB corralled an estimated 48% of the market’s revenue last year, according to BIA/ Kelsey. Meredith offers “a whole laundry list” of reasons for the CBS affiliate’s success, including anchor tenure, smooth transitions when talent does depart and tireless community involvement. “We do all the community events,” he says. “We don’t say ‘no’ a lot.”

Raycom also owns MyNetwork-TV affiliate WBXH, which debuted The Big Extra Hour at 7 a.m. last month; Meredith said it was “odd” that a news powerhouse would call it a morning at 7 a.m.

The Manship family owns ABC affiliate WBRZ. Nexstar has Fox affiliate WGMB and CW outlet WBRL, and operates the NBC station, WVLA, which is owned by Mission Broadcasting. The trio tenaciously reports on high school football action.

Cox is the market’s main subscription TV operator.

WAFB’s 5.1 household rating/ 18.1 share in total-day ratings in the May sweeps was more than a point better than WBRZ’s. WAFB won primetime and took the key news races too. While mornings and early evenings are competitive between WAFB and WBRZ (WAFB posted a 13.3/30.9 at 6 p.m., ahead of WBRZ’s 9.3/21.6), the Raycom station widens the gap coming out of prime. It put up a 14.2/32.4 in late news, nearly doubling WBRZ’s 7.2/16.4. The split was similar in adults 25-54 too.

1004_Market_BatonRougeChart.jpgBaton Rouge, home of Louisiana State University, is around 90 miles northwest of New Orleans. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing a furious battle from Republican challengers; the GOP sees Louisiana as key to its plans to retake the Senate majority. “The biggest thing in Baton Rouge right now is politics,” says Rocky Daboval, general manager at WBRZ. “We’re seeing a lot of political in the market.”

Even when the election noise clears out, Baton Rouge is on strong footing thanks to an economy with a growing creative sector, including many movie shoots. “It’s not all oil and gas here anymore,” says Meredith. “There are other things going on.”

And there’s plenty going on at WAFB. Says Meredith: “When you have the best people and the best resources, it’s tough to overcome somebody in that posture.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN BATON ROUGE: ALL DIGITAL, ALL THE TIME AT WAFB

WAFB dominates on television, and is set up to continue dominating on digital platforms too. The station has a six-person digital-only department, headed up by director of digital media Brent Ledet. The department launched six months ago and is focused on “increasing the harmony between the broadcast and digital sides,” says Ledet.

Ledet was WAFB’s marketing director for fi ve years. The group is training reporters and producers to break news on digital platforms first, and is building the social media relationship between the station and its users. WAFB has over 146,000 Facebook fans—a big number for a station in DMA No. 93 (WBRZ is at 72,150).

The setup at WAFB gives digital a seat at the table of station leaders. “Digital has become a huge, huge part of our operation,” says Lee Meredith, VP and general manager.