Market Eye: Conventional Wisdom in Tampa

Traffic, security among local concerns as Republican Party rolls into town

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Tampa-St. Petersburg

Enjoying extra viewers for the Olympics, NBC affiliate WFLA debuted a 7 p.m. newscast on July 30, moving ET to 7:30. Brad Moses, WFLA VP and general manager, says there’s an “untapped need” for a 7 p.m. news in Tampa, with people working well past the traditional early evening slots.

“I look out my window and see a lot of people on the road at 6 p.m.,” Moses says. “This was a chance to extend the brand of our news further into the marketplace. It’s the right news at the right time.”

Jen Leigh anchors the 7 p.m. newscast, which is up against Wheel of Fortune, TMZand Scripps’ new block of homegrown access shows. Moses says WFLA staffers appreciate parent Media General’s focus on broadcasting after selling all but one of its newspapers. “The mood is upbeat,” Moses says. “We’re back to doing what we can as a TV station.” —MM

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Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of the liveliest and most
competitive TV markets in the nation. All six major network
affiliates in DMA No. 14 feature different owners. There is a
handful of strong Spanish-language stations, a well-funded
independent and a cable news network blanketing weather
and political news.

The Republican National Convention
moves in on Aug. 27, and
TV outlets will be setting up at the
Tampa Bay Times Forum arena
and covering local issues, such as
dreadful traffic, around town.

Since there will be protests, station
managers are working hard to
train and equip their reporters for
the unforeseen. “It’s different from
any event I’ve been associated with,”
says Richard Pegram, vice president
and general manager of WFTS. “[Security]
is something we’re investing
a significant amount of money in.”

There has been extraordinary change at the
stations, starting with WFLA. Owner Media
General sold all but one of its newspapers, the
lone survivor being the Tampa Tribune, which
shares space with the NBC affiliate. Brad Moses
became general manager of WFLA last March.
The station is taking steps to evolve away from
the newspaper-broadcast convergence philosophy.
“We’re moving some physical things, some
sales and news, back to a more traditional setup,”
Moses says. “We continue to work together
where it makes sense and are trying to get rid of
things that weren’t as efficient.”

The ratings race has tightened. Two-tenths
of a point separated the Big Four stations in
total-day household ratings in the May sweeps,
with Fox-owned WTVT on top. Gannett’s CBS
affiliate WTSP won primetime by a tenth of a
point, but WTVT took the adults 25-54 race
easily. WTSP was tops at 11 p.m. with a 4.2
household rating/9 share, while WTVT had a
5.6/9 at 10 p.m. WTVT won a close a.m. battle
and 5 p.m., while WFLA seized 6 p.m.

WTVT thrives on its “extremely tenured”
anchor crew, says Jeff Maloney, WTVT VP/GM.
“This market has a lot of good news-producing
stations,” he says. “Every sweeps is a horse race.”

Stations include Scripps’ ABC outlet WFTS,
CBS-owned CW affiliate WTOG, Hearst TV’s
independent WMOR and Entravision’s Univision
affiliate WVEA. Sinclair recently agreed to
acquire MyNetworkTV station WTTA, which
it has operated since 1998, for $40 million.
WWSB is an ABC affiliate for the Sarasota side
of the market. Bright House is the major subscription
TV operator; its Bay News 9 channel
turns 15 in September.

The stations have big things going on for
fall, perhaps none bigger than WFTS’ new access
shows Let’s Ask America and The List, which
Scripps debuts Sept. 17. “It’s very exciting to have
fresh programming that will attract a younger audience
and be very saleable,” says Pegram.

WTSP grabbed Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!
from WFTS for this fall; the station recently
launched a 9 a.m. news. “It’s a fun newscast,”
says Ken Tonning, president/GM. “We stop in
on the editorial meeting, the weather center,
go out in the field for a couple live stories.”

WTVT debuted 11 p.m. weekend news July 8.
WFLA premiered 7 p.m. news July 30.
WMOR is pumped for a Thursday-night Tampa
Bay Buccaneers NFL telecast in October. “It’s
huge for us,” says Ken Lucas, president and
general manager. “We’ll make an event out of it.”

Bright House Sports Network will air high
school state playoff games in several sports.

The GOP convention will help an ailing
economy. “It’s getting better, but it’s still slow,”
says Elliott Wiser, Bright House VP of news
and local programming. “Things are not fast
and furious, but it’s a big improvement compared
to last year.”

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