Market Eye: It Ain't Easy Being Green

Burlington-Plattsburgh losing young viewers, but not for lack of solid stations

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Burlington-Plattsburgh

Perhaps the biggest key to WCAX’s longtime success in DMA No. 97 is the longevity of its management. Anson Tebbetts was named news director at the CBS affiliate in 2009, following Marselis Parsons’ retirement. Tebbetts, who was a bureau chief at WCAX before a run as Vermont’s deputy secretary of agriculture, was the station’s fourth news director in 55 years, according to Peter Martin, president and general manager. “We value stability and our audience values stability,” says Martin.

Martin has a bit of stability himself: He started at WCAX as a reporter in 1969 before leaving for a few years to work in the governor’s office. He came back in 1973 as vice president for news and public affairs, working with his father, Red Martin, before working his way up to GM.

In a sparsely populated state, viewers like the familiar faces. “People appreciate watching young reporters grow up on our air,” says Martin. —MM

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Burlington-Plattsburgh has a brain drain issue, evidenced
by the market slipping this year from DMA No. 95 to 97.
And there’s not much indication that it can stem the slide. People flocked to the Green Mountain
State market to raise families decades ago,
say the area’s residents, when the major
East Coast cities were crime ridden. Now
that those metropolises are more attractive,
Burlington-Plattsburgh’s young people are
heading to them—leaving an aging, and
shrinking, population.

“A demographic bomb has gone off,” says
Peter Martin, president and general manager
of Burlington-based WCAX. “There seems to
be a steady flow of young people out of the
state. If they stay in Vermont, how do they
make a career in a state of 620,000 people?”

One key person moving in the opposite
direction is Kyle Grimes. Grimes, executive
producer and then news director at Hearst TV’s
WPTZ Plattsburgh from 2003-08, came back to
the market last summer to succeed the retiring
Paul Sands atop the station. “The sense of community
is real strong here,” Grimes says.

It’s a two-horse race in Burlington-Plattsburgh,
and WCAX, a CBS affiliate, wins. WCAX is
owned by Mount Mansfield TV (it’s the company’s
only station), and it punches well above its
weight—grabbing a prestigious DuPont award
for its investigative work in 2010. Martin
says WCAX thrives on the tenure of its staff and a dedication to covering the
vast corners of the market, which includes not
only chunks of Vermont and New York but a
piece of New Hampshire as well.

And WCAX is dogged in its coverage of
legislative action out of Montpelier, Vermont’s
capital. “Our signal defines the market,” says
Martin. “We are an important medium by
which the state talks to itself.”

WPTZ airs NBC programming. Lambert
Broadcasting owns ABC affiliate WVNY, which
is operated by Smith Media’s Fox affiliate
WFFF. Earlier this month, Nexstar and Mission
Broadcasting agreed to acquire WFFF-WVNY
for $17.1 million, with Nexstar/Mission agreeing
to provide sales and other services to
WVNY upon the deal’s closing. Steve Doerr is
GM of the stations, which share a mouthful of
a website at
WVNY dropped news in 2003, but it now features
a full slate of local newscasts. "It's a very user-friendly brand," says Steve Doerr, vice president and group manager of Smith Media's New York/New England region. "People seem to be responding to it."

The CW
airs on WFFF’s dot-two.

Comcast is the market’s major subscription
TV operator, while Charter and Time Warner
Cable have a presence as well.

WCAX ran the sweeps table in May. Its 4.2
household rating/21.2 share at 11 p.m. topped
WPTZ’s 3.2/16.2.

The geographic spread in Burlington-
Plattsburgh is daunting. Martin chafes at the
word “market” to describe the DMA, which
contains several distinct sub-markets, and lots
of rural areas—the city of Burlington has but
43,000 people. “We are out and about and in
the countryside a lot,” says Martin.

The top news stations have multiple facilities
to cover the DMA. Plattsburgh-based WPTZ
has offices near Burlington and in White River
Junction, on the Vermont-New Hampshire
border. “The sensibilities of New York and
Vermont and New Hampshire are somewhat
different,” says Grimes. “There are geographic
challenges you don’t see in other markets.”

Major employers include government, the
University of Vermont, a medical center and
IBM. TV stations saw some political spending
this year, thanks to candidates looking to
reach New Hampshire’s undecided voters.

Grimes is in “evaluation-of-everything
mode,” he says, with an eye on taking down
tough WCAX. WPTZ pushes an aggressive
news brand, including coverage of the severe
weather that defines the region.

“The market has its share of snow and cold
weather,” says Grimes, who was previously in
West Palm Beach, Fla. “But it’s a great place
to live.”

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