Market Eye: Grand Plans for Growth

Knock on WOOD, economy shows signs of life in Western Michigan

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo-Battle Creek

Diane Kniowski, WOOD-WOTV-WXSP general manager, took the weekly showMaranda Where You Live and gave it a nightly slot at 7 on WOTV starting on Feb. 11. The family-friendly Maranda(hosted by Lori Cook) has been on WOOD-WOTV since 2001. “Her goal is to educate, inform, teach and lead by example,” Kniowski says.

Maranda covers issues such as Internet safety, bullying and self-esteem. One popular segment is “Park Parties,” where the host and her crew set up a batch of rides and games at parks in underprivileged neighborhoods on six Thursdays during the summer.

Maranda’s first full ratings book in its new time period is May. The show may never be a ratings giant, but Kniowski says it’s a hit with sponsors, including local hospitals and banks. “We don’t judge the show by its ratings,” she says. “We judge it by clients’ reactions and the reaction of the public.” —MM

WOOD has long been a darling in Western Michigan and a jewel in
the LIN Media crown. But suddenly WWMT is also learning what it
feels like to be loved. The station suffered when former owner Freedom was mired in bankruptcy, but it has been enjoying the
investment of new owner Sinclair Broadcast Group. Jim
Lutton, VP and general manager of WWMT, says the
windfall has included a pair of LiveU camera packs, key
for newsgathering in the vast, topographically challenging
market, and the weekend morning news program
that debuted in January.

“We’d been trying to do that for three years,” Lutton
says of the new newscast. “Sinclair has been very good
about giving us a lot of support for our news product.”

The ratings race is “narrowing” up and down the
grid, says Lutton, but WOOD remains strong in its submarket
and beyond. WOOD, WZZM and WXMI are
based in Grand Rapids, while WWMT is in Kalamazoo;
geography means a lot in the multi-hyphenated market.
“When it comes to local news, people watch the station
in their backyard,” says Janet Mason, president and
general manager at WZZM.

Despite its Rust Belt trappings, Grand Rapids-
Kalamazoo-Battle Creek is in undeniable growth mode.
It was one of just three markets (along with Oklahoma
City and Anchorage) to gain three positions in the annual
Nielsen market ratings this year, leapfrogging Las Vegas,
Birmingham and Harrisburg to land at No. 39. BIA/Kelsey
ranks Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo No. 44 in terms of revenue—
well ahead of the No. 52 it held last year.

Medical centers are a giant economic anchor in the
market, with a new Western Michigan University research
hub planned for Kalamazoo in May 2014.

“The marketplace has been steady a while, and we’ve
managed to attract new businesses,” says Lutton.

LIN’s holdings in the region are substantial. WOOD
is the NBC affiliate, while the company
also owns the market’s junior
ABC station WOTV (due to the geographical
expanse of the DMA, it has
two ABC stations) and MyNetwork-
TV affiliate WXSP. Sinclair’s WWMT
is the CBS affiliate, and it airs The
CW on its subchannel. Gannett has
the primary ABC outlet, WZZM,
while Tribune owns Fox affiliate
WXMI. Charter and
Comcast are the market’s
main subscription TV

WOOD cleans up in
the Nielsen diary market; it won total-day
ratings in the February sweeps, along
with all the news races. But WOOD gets
crushed in primetime, which WWMT
wins easily. WOOD turns a 2.8 household
rating/5.6 share in primetime to a
5.9 /20.6 in late news—just ahead of
WWMT’s 5.7/19.9.

Diane Kniowski, VP and general manager
at the LIN station trio, says WOOD
thrives on its legacy status, a comprehensive
effort on breaking news—it’s
the only station in the market with five
meteorologists, Kniowski notes—and
tireless community involvement. “WOOD
is the station that takes on big projects,” Kniowski says,
citing a clutch of art shows, running races and specials
on local figures, including one on late president Gerald

Grand Rapids sustained historic flooding in April,
which was overshadowed in the national news by the
bombings in Boston. Mason says
WZZM stuck with coverage when
much of the competition was in network
reports out of Boston. “We felt
it was important for a local station to
focus on a locally important story,”
she says.

WZZM has more than 100,000
Facebook likes, well ahead of
WOOD, and Mason says the platform
is key for having a “conversation
with our customers.” WWMT
has expanded its 10 p.m. news on
its subchannel to an hour and has
Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!
along with The Big Bang Theory on its digital tier—in
access. WXMI, with its parent Tribune out of bankruptcy,
is growing its news presence, including the addition
of weekend morning news in March.

But WOOD has upped its investigative reporting and
shows no signs of surrendering the Grand Rapids news
crown. “We’re a leader in news and events in the community,”
says Kniowski. “We use the station to communicate
and connect with people.”

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