Market Eye: 'Fighting' SpiritDrought causes ripple economic effect in central Illinois 9/10/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The United States has its heartland, and then there is the heartland's
heartland. That's how residents of Champaign- Springfield-Decatur see their
region, which stretches across the belly of Illinois: earnest, hard working,
"People are really passionate about the community," says Rick Joseph, president
and general manager at WAND. "It's real heart-of-the- Midwest-type people."
Each sub-market has a distinct profile. Champaign is the college town, home to
the giant University of Illinois. Decatur is an agricultural base, and
Springfield is, of course, the capital of Illinois.
With the new school year under way, all eyes are on the Fighting Illini
football squad. Neighbor cities such as Chicago, St. Louis and Indianapolis
have major pro and college sports franchises, but for Champaign-Decatur-
Springfield, the local college team is everything. On Sept. 1, WAND debuted its
pregame show, Inside the Illini Big Ten Football, which is shot at a
local Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant.
"This is Illini country-there's a lot of buzz here," Joseph says. "Other Big
Ten teams bleed in to the market, but there's really nothing else here-it's all
Several stations are clamoring for some pigskin action. Fox affiliate WRSP airs
some SEC college football and Chicago Bears preseason games, while sister CW
affiliate WBUI has ACC gridiron action and preseason St. Louis Rams games.
"We've increased our sports presence on both sides," says Peter O'Brien, VP and
general manager of WRSP-WBUI.
Based in Springfield, Sinclair ABC affiliate WICS is a power. The station led
the market in 2011 revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, its estimated $11.68
million ahead of Nexstar CBS affiliate WCIA's $10.93 million. Nexstar also owns
MyNetworkTV affiliate WCIX; both are based in Springfield. GoCom owns Fox-CW
combo WRSP and WBUI, also in Springfield, while Block Communications-owned
WAND, an NBC affiliate, is in Decatur.
Comcast is the region's main subscription- TV operator. Around 85% of residents
are white, according to BIA/Kelsey.
While much of the country was watching the Gulf Coast area get battered by
Hurricane Isaac, DMA No. 82 has been keeping its fingers crossed for rain for
several months. Isaac's aftermath did bring some welcome wet weather. "We got a
lot of rain recently, but not enough to clear us from the drought conditions,"
says Coby Cooper, VP and general manager at WCIA-WCIX.
The market's varied profile-agriculture, education, government-helps the
overall economic picture. While Champaign-Springfield- Decatur moved up to DMA
No. 82 this year, from No. 84, it's stuck at No. 96 in terms of revenue,
according to BIA/ Kelsey. More rainfall, and healthier agricultural output,
will help the economic outlook. "People are just holding on and waiting-there's
concern about the economy like everybody else," Joseph says. "The drought has
had a real negative impact on the rural communities here."
Joseph started in the market Feb. 1. He previously ran KTRV Boise (Idaho).
Cooper came to Champaign two years ago, after running Nexstar's operation in
Peoria, Ill. He is currently overseeing WCIA's move to complete its HD studio,
including local news and commercials. The changeover is pegged for this fall.
"We've got a new weather system, new set, new graphics," Cooper says. "We're
right in the middle of it."
Stations are expanding their programming offerings. WICS
produces a nightly 9 p.m. news for WRSP, while WBUI has "CMore Weather" updates
every hour. The Fox station introduced Me-TV on its dot-two this fall, while
the CW station has had This TV on its multicast tier for years.
"We're pleased with the response from advertisers and
viewers," says O'Brien. "It's been a good move for us."
Every Friday in the summer, WCIA hits the road and produces
its 4 p.m. lifestyle show, CI Living, as well as its 5 and 6 p.m. news from an
outlying corner of the market (see sidebar). It's a chance for these sometimes
remote regions to tell their unique stories.
After a successful Olympics, WAND, which airs HD local news,
hopes to keep the samplers coming back. WANDTV.com has a lively stable of staff
blogs, including ones dedicated to weather, film and sports. "We focus on the
hyper-hyper-hyper local," says Joseph. "We're adding staff to expand our
footprint in central Illinois."
WICS sticks with its ABC NewsChannel 20 branding, and
features "Raw News"-"extra news footage, full interviews, and extended stories
that didn`t make it on air"--on WICS.com. Tim Mathis, the general manager, did
not return calls for updates on the Sinclair stations.
Market leaders are praying for rain, and a successful Illini
football campaign. "It's a great Midwestern community," says O'Brien. "The
strong work ethic and values make it fun to do business here."