Market Eye: High Energy in the Steel City

Competition breeds quality in growing Pittsburgh market

Why This Matters

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