Market Eye: Carolinas on Their Minds

Stations seek to dominate their submarkets, and beyond, in Greenville-Spartanburg

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson

WSPA plays up a “7 On Your Side” brand, and Bob Romine, VP and general manager, says there are three major programming “pillars” to the strategy. Community Watchdog, hosted by Gordon Dill, trains its gimlet eye on business and government.Problem Solver, with Tracy Earley at the helm, helps “the average Joe,” as Romine puts it, tackle individual issues such as a customer hit with egregious, and erroneous, hospital bills. Consumer Watch, anchored by Diane Lee, reports on news such as tax tips to avoid an audit and product recalls to help keep viewers safe.

A viewer “help line” is in place for station staffers to collect tips.

“Three major franchises support our kind of journalism,” Romine says of WSPA, where newsroom vet Karen Kelly took over as news director late last year.

Advocacy also dominates; in addition to the three pillars, sections include Statehouse Watch, Crime Tracker and Medical Watch. —MM

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South Carolina native John Soapes had not been in Greenville-Spartanburg
in 15 years when he was tapped to run WYFF as GM a few years ago. Featuring
a bevy of new sights on display, from ambitious local restaurants to new mega-corporations, it was hardly
the same Greenville he’d known before.
“It was overwhelming,” Soapes says.
“The city grew at such a rapid pace.”

But Greenville-Spartanburg-
Asheville-Anderson is struggling
to get station revenue on par with
the market’s growth. It’s the No. 37
Nielsen DMA, but just No. 44 by
revenue, reports BIA/Kelsey. Station
GMs here speak of a “general malaise”
around the region, a feeling enhanced
by the sequester mandate coming out
of Washington, D.C. “The market’s a
little soft in the first quarter,” says
Bob Romine, WSPA VP and GM. “We
haven’t quite figured out why.”

Local advertising revenue is down,
Romine adds, while national is flat.

The market is made up of what’s
called “The Upstate” section of South
Carolina and southern North Carolina.
Stations fight hard to win their
submarket—and poach viewers from
the other quadrants. Media Generalowned
CBS affiliate WSPA is in Spartanburg.
Hearst Television’s NBC
outlet WYFF is in Greenville, as is
Meredith-owned Fox affiliate WHNS.
Sinclair has a virtual duopoly in ABC
affiliate WLOS, licensed to Asheville,
and MyNetworkTV station WMYA, owned by closely
aligned Cunningham Broadcasting and licensed to Anderson,

Media General has the other duopoly in WYCW, or
“Carolina’s CW.” Charter is the market’s dominant cable
operator, though satellite subs are exceptionally high.

The ratings race is a hot one. WYFF and WLOS tied
for the a.m. news lead in the February sweeps, with
WSPA just a tenth of a point off the pace. WLOS won
5 p.m. and WYFF took 6. WSPA grabbed the total-day
and primetime races and also won late news with a
7.5 household rating/14 share, ahead of WLOS’ 5.6/10.

WSPA brought in an estimated $26.28 million in
2011, the most recent year BIA/Kelsey has figures for.
WYFF did $25.43 million and WLOS $22.98 million.

Soapes, who took over as GM of WYFF in May 2011,
calls it a “truly hyphenated” market. “We all try to capture
our backyards,” he says, “but also do things to
bring in viewers from outside our backyards.”

WYFF flipped on local HD last year, while debuting
a new set, graphics package, website and mobile app.

WLOS supplements its Web coverage with a feed
from right-leaning news agency Newsmax. WHNS
bills itself as “Fox Carolina” and shows the localized
Meredith show Better Carolinas at 10 a.m.

WSPA operates news bureaus in Anderson and
Greenville. “We try to be as balanced as we can across
the DMA,” says Romine.

Romine arrived in 2011 after a long run atop a pair
of Media General-owned CBS affiliates in Jackson and
Hattiesburg, Miss. WSPA thrives with an “On Your
Side” advocacy brand. WSPA-WYCW offer
an abundance of live programming; besides news, there
is the lifestyle show Your Carolina out of the downtown
Greenville set, at 10 a.m. on the CBS side. Last December,
WYCW debuted sister program Carolina Now, shot
in Spartanburg, at 11 a.m.

“We’ve got nine hours a day of local news and programming,”
says Romine. “We’re kind of tapped out in
terms of expanding.”

WSPA-WYCW are enjoying Media General’s status
as a pure-play broadcaster, no longer saddled with a
newspaper division’s losses. “It’s a creative environment
where we are more innovative and more flexible on the
broadcast side,” Romine says. “There’s the opportunity
to be more bold and aggressive as a company, and certainly
as broadcasters in Greenville-Spartanburg.”

The market enjoys a number of major companies
with a presence in the region, including Michelin, BMW,
Adidas and Amazon. TD Bank expanded its operation in
Greenville last year; it plans to eventually add some 1,400
jobs. “There’s a lot of innovation going on,” says Soapes.
“It’s not a sleepy little town anymore.”

While the market held at No. 37 in the Nielsen rankings,
it did lose nearly 15,000 TV households last year,
which the general managers believe to be more of a
Nielsen recalibration than a matter of decreased head
count. BIA/Kelsey forecasts more than 100,000 people
moving in to the market from 2011-16, a 1% growth rate.

Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is
a popular tourist destination. Greenville’s restaurant
scene is starting to rival that of Charleston, locals say.
Spartanburg bills itself as a music town on the same
stage as Music City itself. “If Nashville moved south, it’d
be here,” goes the tourism bureau’s slogan. Anderson
is in the foothills of the mountains, on the shores of
Lake Hartwell.

Soapes continues to enjoy poking around his new environs.
“It’s a gem of a city for sure,” he says of Greenville.

Same goes for Romine, who digs the friendly people
and the mountain views as he drives to and from
WSPA. “What a beautiful piece of the country to be
living in,” he says. “And, coming from Jackson, the four
seasons here are extraordinary to me.”

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