Market Eye: Fort-ified in Florida

Fort Myers-Naples stations investing after brutal recession

Why This Matters

What’s Working In Fort Myers-Naples

Multicast channels liven up the content menu in Fort Myers. WBBH runs weather and news on its .2 channel, which Steve Pontius, executive vice president and general manager, calls a continuation, and enhancement, of NBC’s former Weather Plus channels. “We took the old NBC weather channel and put it on steroids,” he says.

WINK’s executives are working through the station’s shift to the UHF band before finalizing sub-channel plans. Fox affiliate WFTX airs Hispanic entertainment channel LATV on its .2, while ABC affiliate WZVN, which Pontius manages as well, began airing popular vintage hits channel Me-TV (see “Station to Station,” Sept. 26) in June. Pontius likes the mix of established classic programs, such as Cheers and The Bob Newhart Show, and the fact that stations can localize Me-TV with their own content, such as high school football. “Interest in it has been phenomenal,” he says. “That’s been a good product on our D-2.”—MM

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Skies are brightening in Fort Myers-Naples, Fla. It being fall, the population
will soon swell when the snowbirds return as part of their annual
migratory pattern. The new Nielsen market rankings saw Fort Myers jump from No. 65 to No. 62—the largest leap forward for
any station in the Top 90 markets.

Most important, the home foreclosures that crippled
Fort Myers as badly as almost any market in the United
States are mostly in the rearview mirror. “It’s a huge relief,
compared to where we were three years ago,” says Lara
Kunkler, president of WZVN owner Montclair Communications.
“I don’t think we see completely bright light at the
end of the tunnel, but things have stabilized.”

To be sure, Fort Myers is ! ghting just to get back to
where it was pre-recession, as evidenced by the fact that
it had been DMA No. 62 as recently as 2009. Tourism is
strong, and Florida’s typical role as a swing state will pump
candidate cash into station coffers. “I think next year is going
to be big for political spending,” says Wayne Simons,
WINK vice president and general manager. “The rest of
the economy, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Buoyed by the recent momentum, stations are increasing
their local output, none more so than WINK. The CBS
affiliate added a 4 p.m. newscast in place of Oprah Winfrey
June 6. On September 6, WINK slotted in a 10 a.m. news
broadcast, with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire moving to
WBBH. The station has also increased its weekend news
from 90 minutes per morning to two hours.

There is one heck of a ratings race going on between
WINK and NBC affiliate WBBH. The two tied in total day
household ratings and early evening news in May. WINK
won prime, a ratings point better than ABC affiliate WZVN
and Fox af! liate WFTX, and grabbed late news with a 6
rating/11 share, just ahead of WBBH’s 5/10. WBBH won
the morning news race.

WBBH manages WZVN through what Steve Pontius,
executive vice president and general manager at WBBH,
says is one of the nation’s first local marketing agreements
(LMA). The stations have a joint 100-person newsroom
cranking out 16 unique newscasts, and 12 hours of news,
every weekday. Anchors are dedicated to a lone station,
while reporters mostly appear on both.

Both offer local HD and a tireless focus on all things
hyperlocal. “We live and breathe and believe the future of
our business, and our industry, is local product,” Pontius
says. “With a gazillion cable channels and the changing relationship
between affiliates and networks, the only thing
you can control is your local news product.”

That includes online. WBBH-WZVN has around 14
people working primarily on the Web; the two maintain
separate Websites.
Fort Myers Broadcasting owns WINK and launched
WINK AM and FM radio outlets last year. WINK is in the
process of shifting from the VHF to the UHF band, and
should be set up on channel 50 by the end of the year.
Waterman Broadcasting owns WBBH. Journal Broadcast
Group has WFTX, while CW affiliate WXCW is part of
Sun Broadcasting.

Fort Myers-Naples has a particularly
lively multicast scene, with stations’ dot-twos offering everything
from weather to Hispanic entertainment to Dick
Van Dyke Show
reruns. Comcast is the dominant
subscription-TV operator.

WBBH won the 2010 revenue race, according to BIA/
Kelsey, its $27.5 million ahead of WINK’s $24.5 million.
WINK took the unique step of dropping its Nielsen ratings,
owing primarily to their cost and what Simons calls
an antiquated diary system, but he doesn’t necessarily
need ratings to tell him how WINK is doing in prime.
“CBS has done a great job programming prime the last
couple years,” Simons says. “They’ve taken some chances
and made the right strategic moves.”

Located between Tampa and Miami on Florida’s southwestern
coast, Fort Myers-Naples’ major employers
include Lee Memorial Health and the school systems;
general managers say the region does not have the giant
corporations or manufacturing facilities whose presence
makes other cities company towns. Particularly active hurricane
seasons in 2004-2005, coupled with the foreclosures,
pushed people out of the region. But the local TV
execs say folks are starting to return, drawn to the beach,
the climate, bustling shopping and restaurants, and thus
far, a blessedly uneventful hurricane season.

“It’s nice to see the market back in favor and, over time,
smoothing out those harsh views,” Kunkler says. “It’s a
fabulous growth community for so many reasons.”

With those housing woes mostly ironed out, the glasshalf-
full crowd says Fort Myers-Naples offers good value
for those in the market for a home. “As the foreclosures
have moved through the system, there are some of the best
real estate values in America,” Pontius says.

Fort Myers stations are banking on the market sustaining
its growth, and are pumping money into their local
product. “It’s just been a miserable few years,” Pontius
says. “But we’re getting our feet back under us as a market
and as a community.”

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