Market Eye: Doing Things the Chicago Way

'Empire,' 'Chicago Fire,' loads of news produced in DMA No. 3

While Los Angeles and New York have their coastal cache, the TV and film production scene in Chicago is picking up serious momentum. Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. are shot in the market, as is Fox’s rookie smash Empire. Steve Harvey and Judge Mathis are filmed in the NBC Tower as well. “The town has an explosive TV production scene,” says Dennis Welsh, WFLD-WPWR VP/GM.

There’s a ton of news being produced, too. The stations had the Jackie Robinson West squad’s disqualification from the Little League World Series to cover in February. “It’s a tragic outcome for those kids and the South Side community,” says David Doebler, WMAQ president and general manager.

Tribune’s WGN debuted a 4 p.m. news hour in the fall, and a 5 p.m. weekend newscast last summer. NBC’s WMAQ unveiled an 11 a.m. news in September. ABC’s WLS launched a “social cast”—a daily 45-second online program.

Fox owns WFLD and MyNetworkTV sibling WPWR. WMAQ has Telemundo sister WSNS. WGN shares space with cable news network CLTV. “It’s total collaboration,” says Greg Easterly, WGN president and general manager.

The local Univision TV and radio properties moved in together last August. Besides WGBO and UniMás-aligned WXFT, there’s a batch of radio stations, too. Univision Chicago goes to market with a unified approach. “I’m deliriously happy to see the strategy working,” says Doug Levy, senior VP/GM, “and see how the marketplace has responded.”

Other players include CBS-owned WBBM and Weigel-owned independent WCIU; Weigel recently launched a MeTV branded radio station. Despite lacking a corporate sibling, WLS continues to thrive. It and WMAQ were deadlocked in early a.m. household ratings in the November sweeps, with WGN just behind. But WLS crushed the competition in the other news races, including a 9.4 HH rating/16 share at 10 p.m., ahead of WMAQ’s 6.7/11. The 25-54 contest was tighter but still belonged to WLS, which also won primetime.

0301_Market_ChicagoChart.jpg“Our commitment to local is the most important thing,” says John Idler, president and general manager. He cites 25 Cubs telecasts, sponsorship of the Chicago Auto Show and coverage of a bunch of local events, including the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

WFLD is enjoying huge Empire ratings. WSNS launches Telemundo Responde in March. “It’s consumer advocacy—fraud, scams, taxes gone bad,” says Chris McDonnell, president/GM.

WBBM is pushing for “more local engagement,” says Marty Wilke, president and general manager. That includes political debates, 10:30 p.m. weekend news and the Mobile Weather Lab vehicle. “It’s a fun community engagement piece,” she says.

WGN has Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Black Hawks games. “It’s a pretty uncommon commitment from a local broadcaster,” says Easterly.

It’s been a brutally cold winter, but big-city attractions—including a sophisticated restaurant scene—keep Chicagoans busy. “I think everyone would live here,” says Welsh, “if the weather was good.”

WLS DEBUTS 7 P.M. NEWS… ON WCIU

WLS may not have a sister station in the market, but it did extend its news brand with an innovative strategic move. On Jan. 12, it began producing a 7 p.m. news for Weigel-owned independent WCIU. ABC7 Eyewitness News On the U runs 60 minutes and places the WLS news brand in a less traditional time slot.

“The conversation started a number of years ago,” said John Idler, WLS president and general manager. “It finally made sense for us to come together.”

It’s the only one of its kind in that time slot. “Adding local news to the schedule was a goal of ours,” said Bob Ramsey, executive VP, Weigel Local Media, in a statement. “We are thrilled to partner with ABC 7 Eyewitness News, the market’s news leader, to provide this service.”

The Monday-Friday program is anchored by Hosea Sanders and Linda Yu.