Local TV

Market Eye: High Energy in the Steel City

Competition breeds quality in growing Pittsburgh market 4/23/2012 12:01:00 AM Eastern

What’s Working in Pittsburgh

While the NFL’s Steelers are a year-round story, Pittsburgh is a big hockey town and even something of a baseball market, despite the Pirates’ woes. With that in mind, WTAE made some changes to its anchor lineup last fall. Weekend sports guy John Meyer moved to weekday mornings, covering both sports and what Michael J. Hayes, WTAE president/GM, calls “water-cooler topics.” Andrew Stockey now does sports at 6 and 11 p.m. in addition to anchoring the 5 p.m. news. “Andrew is credible on all sides of the story,” says Hayes. “I like to think of him as a local Bryant Gumbel.”

The moves have given WTAE stronger sports, says Hayes, while its news coverage has not skipped a beat. “I don’t think it would work in every market,” he says, “but Pittsburgh is so sports-driven.” —MM

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This month has featured loads of news for Pittsburgh TV
stations to cover—from a series of frightening bomb threats
at the University of Pittsburgh, to the NHL Penguins’ postseason
exploits, to local boy Rick Santorum removing himself
from GOP presidential contention. As always, there were
vigorous local news outfi ts ready to cover them.

Strong news traditions, and strong owners,
always turn up the heat on the news race in
DMA No. 23. “It’s one of, if not the, most competitive
local TV markets in the country,” says
Michael J. Hayes, president and general manager
of WTAE. “Every day, you go out and get it.”

Pittsburgh general managers note that a station
can be both No. 1 and No. 3 in different news
races in a particular sweeps period. But it’s hard
to dispute that CBS-owned KDKA is the frontrunner.
The station won total-day household
ratings in February, a little better than Cox
NBC outlet WPXI. KDKA won primetime easily
and took the early evening and late news
races—the latter with a 9.8 household rating/
9 share, ahead of WPXI’s 6.7/13. KDKA and
WPXI tied in adults 25-54 ratings at 11 p.m.

Hearst TV ABC affiliate WTAE won the
morning news race. “I don’t know of any other
top 25 market where three stations are as close
to each other in terms of news ratings and
revenue share,” says
Ray Carter, VP/GM
at WPXI.

KDKA benefits
from CBS’ booming
primetime schedule,
of course, along with
the deep tenure of
its talent team and
what Chris Pike,
VP/GM, calls consistency
day in and day
out. “It’s the quality
and depth of the
coverage we provide
in and out of sweeps periods,” Pike says. “If
there’s a big story, viewers tend to come to us
in even greater numbers. That’s the trust we
earn every day.”

KDKA has been challenged by the health issues
of a main anchor. Susan Koeppen, coanchor
at 6 and 11, suffered cardiac arrest while
running in November and was off the air until
late January. Koeppen took another hiatus last
month for surgery; she is expected back in the
chair in the middle of May. Pike cites anchor
Kimberly Gill for helping KDKA stay on track
during Koeppen’s absences. “It will be great to
have them both back on-air,” he says.

Other broadcast players include Sinclair’s
Fox affiliate WPGH and MyNetworkTV outlet
WPMY. CBS owns CW-aligned WPCW and
Cornerstone TV has religious station WPCB.
Comcast is the major subscription TV operator.
Cox’s cable channel PCNC turns 20 next
year and works closely with sister WPXI. Carter
calls PCNC “the little engine that could.”

The Pittsburgh economy is stable. While
moving from DMA No. 24 to 23 last year may
not seem like a major jump, it’s noteworthy
when a Rust Belt market adds population.
Pittsburgh has smoothly transitioned from its
coal and steel past to what Pike refers to as a
“knowledge-based economy.” Google has a major
presence here, as do other tech concerns.
But the Marcellus Shale project, which has
the global energy companies vying for drilling
rights, brings Pittsburgh back to its roots.
“Energy has always been a big part of the
economy,” says Hayes. “The shale exploration
is the next layer of that.”

Mornings offer an increasingly competitive
ratings race—not just in the traditional slots
but also at 4:30 and 7 a.m., where news entrants
include PCNC and WPCW.

Then again, every Pittsburgh news race is
hot. “Month in, month out, it’s a jump ball,”
says Hayes. “You cannot help but be a better
broadcaster.”

E-mail comments to
mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him
on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

What’s Working in Pittsburgh

While the NFL’s Steelers are a year-round story, Pittsburgh is a big hockey town and even something of a baseball market, despite the Pirates’ woes. With that in mind, WTAE made some changes to its anchor lineup last fall. Weekend sports guy John Meyer moved to weekday mornings, covering both sports and what Michael J. Hayes, WTAE president/GM, calls “water-cooler topics.” Andrew Stockey now does sports at 6 and 11 p.m. in addition to anchoring the 5 p.m. news. “Andrew is credible on all sides of the story,” says Hayes. “I like to think of him as a local Bryant Gumbel.”

The moves have given WTAE stronger sports, says Hayes, while its news coverage has not skipped a beat. “I don’t think it would work in every market,” he says, “but Pittsburgh is so sports-driven.” —MM

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