Market Eye: Going Indie in Indiana

Evansville features some major affiliation—and ownership—upheaval

Why This Matters

What’s Working In Evansville

Afternoons are looking a lot different on WFIE. Parent Raycom has pushed to cut back on syndicated programming in the group, and WFIE currently has Raycom’s strip show America Now and a 4 p.m. news where Dr. Phil and Oprah were a year ago.

Jackie Monroe, formerly of WTVW, anchors the 4 p.m. newscast; WFIE plans to add a coanchor. Nick Ulmer, WFIE vice president and general manager, calls Monroe a multi-talented news pro; while waiting out an on-air non-compete, Monroe produced WFIE’s 10 p.m. news. “She has good, strong producer, reporter and anchor skills, and we’re looking for a partner with all three skills too,” says Ulmer.

Operating in a Nielsen diary market, WFIE will have until November to see how the fresh afternoon lineup is faring. But Ulmer says the new newscast has legs. “It’s fast-paced with real news, not soft news,” the GM says. “It’s not a tease to the other [early evening] newscasts.” —MM

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Few markets have seen changes to their TV landscape of late the way Evansville,
Ind., has. The wheels went into motion in May, when Fox announced
it was partnering with ComCorp’s WEVV to launch Fox on the CBS affiliate’s
subchannel July 1, leaving Nexstar’s WTVW without an affiliation.

Then in late June, WTVW
revealed it was going fully independent
on July 1 as Local 7,
the name “reflecting our commitment
to quality programming
and advertising solutions,” according
to Mike Smith, the station’s
VP/general manager.

Then things got weirder. On
Aug. 8, Nexstar announced its
intention to acquire ABC affiliate
WEHT for $18.5 million from
Gilmore Broadcasting, while
divesting WTVW to Mission
Broadcasting, which Nexstar has
a management relationship with.

Got all that straight? If not,
you may not be alone. Evansville
television insiders say the
July sweeps saw a steep ratings
drop for Fox at its new home,
compared to being a primary
channel the previous summer.
But Tim Black, WEVV general
manager, says viewers are finding
“Fox44” following an intense marketing campaign
on-air, outdoors, on radio and, to a lesser degree, in
print. “The transition was smooth as can be for viewers,”
Black says. “We were pleasantly surprised to see
the numbers we did get. We anticipate nothing but
increases in November.”

WFIE and WEHT split the total-day household
ratings crown in last May’s sweeps. WEHT
and WTVW were virtually tied for primetime
honors, while WFIE won morning, early evening
and late news—the latter with a 10 rating/
21 share, ahead of WEHT’s 8/18.

WFIE led the pack with $12 million in revenue last
year, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of WEHT’s $7.5
million and WTVW’s $7.3 million.

Amidst all the shaking up, WFIE has stayed
strong—and it may get stronger. Raycom’s NBC affiliate
is a consistent place for viewers in DMA No. 104
to turn for news, information and entertainment. “I
think it’s an advantage for us until all the dust settles,”
says Nick Ulmer, WFIE VP/general manager. “There
seems to be some confusion with advertisers about
what happened.”

WEVV’s subchannel airs Fox from 7 to 9 p.m. and
MyNetworkTV from 9 to 11. Fox44 does not air local
news. Rivals say Dish Network does not currently
carry the channel, meaning some 16% of the market
does not receive Fox44. [Editor's Note: WEVV worked out a carriage deal for Fox44 with Dish after presstime.]

But Black says a CBS-Fox duopoly is ideal, reaching
both sides of the demographic scale and essentially hogging
the football this time of year. “For sports in general,
CBS-Fox is pretty much the place to be,” he says.

It appears certain that WEHT and WTVW will move
into the same building, but management at both stations
is not confirming. WEHT management referred
calls to Nexstar co-COO Tim Busch, who did not call
back. The Evansville Courier & Press reported that
Busch and Nexstar President/CEO Perry Sook were in
town in late August to work out moving both staffs
into WEHT’s digs. The paper also said staffers are reapplying
for their positions.

WTVW’s new approach includes a fourth hour of
morning news, an expansion to its Saturday 6 p.m.
program, and the debut of a Sunday 6 p.m. newscast.
The station’s new primetime includes Inside Edition,
The Insider and a double-run of Big Bang Theory.

WEHT shows “News 25 Sports Channel” on its .2, a
mix of Kentucky school sports network Wazoo Sports
and local Evansville games. The channel celebrated its
first anniversary in August.

WFIE introduced a 4 p.m. newscast last September,
taking the place of Oprah Winfrey. The station’s
call letters stand for “We’re First In Evansville,”
and it’s a mission statement: Ulmer, who succeeded
Debbie Bush atop the station in June 2010 after 27
years at WAVE Louisville, says the station was first on
the air back in 1953, first with color broadcasts and,
most recently, fi rst with local HD: WFIE flipped the
switch last July. “As corny as it sounds, we continue
the tradition of being first in everything,” Ulmer says.
“We invest a lot of time, talent and money to make
sure we’re delivering superior newscasts, and we think
it shows.”

The region is known as the Tri-State; around half
of the viewership lives in southwestern Indiana, approximately
41% is in Kentucky, and some 7% is in
Illinois. Insight is the primary subscription TV operator,
followed by Wow!

BIA ranked Evansville a lagging No. 113 in terms of
revenue last year. Appliance giant Whirlpool shuttered
a manufacturing facility in 2010 (“that hurt,” says Ulmer),
but general managers say business is picking
up. Alcoa and Berry Plastics are significant employers,
and Toyota manufactures its Sequoia, Sienna and
Highlander models in the market. “Things are relatively
good, compared to other parts of the country,”
says Black.

Residents are eagerly awaiting the grand opening of
the Ford Center arena; Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet
Band are scheduled to rock opening night Nov. 9. “We
need to develop the downtown area, and hopefully the
arena is a shot in the arm,” says Ulmer.

The various affiliation switches may end up being a
shot in the arm to Evansville television, but WFIE is
not relinquishing its stronghold anytime soon. “The
people who were here before me deserve a lot of credit,”
says Ulmer. “My challenge is to make sure we don’t
lose ground.”

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