Market Eye: The Joys of Lex

Wildcats, horses thrill Lexington locals and help keep news ratings high

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Lexington

Lexington market leader WLEX’s 4 and 7 p.m. newscasts, which debuted fall 2010, are putting up strong numbers. The 4 p.m. news won its time slot during the February sweeps, while the 7 p.m. show was No. 2. “They’ve been real good additional products for us to have,” says Pat Dalbey, WLEX president/GM.

The 4 p.m. program is female-oriented and rich in social media features. The 7 p.m. news, Evening Edition, trails WKYT’s Wheel of Fortune by a significant margin, but Dalbey is bullish on the show. The single-anchor program, which he refers to as an “executive newscast,” has a high story count, with lots of business and international news. “If you’re stuck in traffic, we have a newscast for you when you get home,” Dalbey says. “It’s a real nice wrap-up of the day’s events.” —MM

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It is the happy time of year in Lexington, Ky. College basketball is a
regional religion, and the Kentucky Wildcats thrilled the market with
an NCAA basketball championship in early April. Then hoops gave way
to horse racing—another pastime that generates outsize passion locally.

Lexington is known as the thoroughbred capital of
the U.S., and even the world. “People underestimate
how much money it brings in to the market,” says
Michael Brickey, general manager at WDKY.

The locals slip into horse racing metaphors in conversation,
such as one about the ratings derby in DMA
No. 64. “If I was a horse handicapper, I’d say it’s been
a two-horse race for a long time,” says Wayne Martin,
WKYT president and general manager. “NBC dominates
horse racing in April, but we dominated March with
basketball. It’s a tight, tight race.”

Yet the NBC af! liate, Cordillera Communications’
WLEX, has pulled ahead. WLEX won mornings in
the February sweeps, along with a tight early evening
news race. CBS affiliate WKYT won primetime and was
virtually deadlocked with WLEX at 11 p.m. and in
total-day ratings in terms of households.

WLEX is stronger in viewers 25-54. Pat Dalbey,
WLEX president and general manager, says the station
thrives on hard news, breaking news and enterprise
reporting. “We go in depth a little more,” he says, “and
we have phenomenal weather coverage.”

All the stations were put to the test when what Dalbey
calls “horrendous” weather struck the market in early
March, including a series of tornadoes. Dalbey gives
the broadcast community high marks for informing the
public. “I believe, because of broadcasters in this state,
a lot of lives were saved that day,” he says. “As an industry,
we lived up to what we are charged with—keeping
people informed under the direst of circumstances.”

That includes Sinclair’s Fox affiliate WDKY and Morris
Network’s ABC affiliate WTVQ. Several local broadcasters
have multiple station offerings; Gray Television has
both WKYT and sister CBS outlet WYMT, around 125
miles away in Hazard. WYMT airs its own 6 and 11
p.m. news. “They’re a factor in the market,” says Martin.

WKYT airs The CW as a multicast channel, while
WTVQ has MyNetworkTV on its digital tier. In fact,
WTVQ has one of the liveliest multicast strategies
around; both WTVQ and the local MyNet air in HD,
and WTVQ added Antenna TV to its .3 channel last
December. “We’re a strong believer in multicasting,” says
Chris Aldridge, general manager. “We certainly enjoy
the growth we’ve seen in our multicast channels.”

Time Warner Cable is the primary cable operator; it
turned into the “800-pound gorilla,” as Aldridge puts
it, following TWC’s acquisition last year of Insight, the
second-largest operator in Lexington.

Station general managers say the local economy is on
strong footing. A diverse business portfolio that includes
not only thoroughbreds, but bourbon, hospitals, government
and universities keeps Lexington humming.
One heartening sign is local marketers returning to television
after a protracted hiatus. “We’re seeing advertisers
who disappeared in the heart of the recession coming
back,” says Aldridge. “We’re seeing bigger budgets, too.”

Stations are innovating to get ahead. WLEX was first
in the market to go live with news at 4:30 a.m. (which
started April 23) and is finding success with newish
4 and 7 p.m. newscasts. The station also
added Me-TV in January. “There’s been a very good
response,” says Dalbey. “We didn’t expect to get huge
ratings at this point, but it has caught on quickly.”

WTVQ this fall will add the syndicated Katie and Jeff
. WDKY is putting greater emphasis on its interactive
tools, including Web, mobile and social media.
“It’s a big focus,” says Brickey. “It’s creating revenue and
giving viewers more opportunities to see our products.”

Brickey notes that WDKY in February had the No. 3
10 p.m. news among Fox stations nationwide in adults
25-54 and was No. 1 among Sinclair’s many Fox affiliates.

WKYT got to show off its technological knowhow
during March Madness. Reporters and anchors hit the Big
Easy with iPads, and the station used a trio of TVUPacks
while covering UK’s appearance in the Final Four. “It’s
basically backpacks replacing gas-guzzling live trucks,”
says Martin. “Anchors sitting in New Orleans are just as
connected as if they were sitting in our studio.”

College basketball does outrageous ratings in Lexington.
WKYT execs estimate the Kentucky vs. Kansas NCAA
title game on April 2 posted a 61 rating in Lexington,
a Nielsen diary market. Regular-season UK games did
around a 30 household rating; a Wednesday afternoon
practice even pulled a 5 rating. The Wildcats’ championship
win still has Lexington buzzing.

“People are enjoying life here,” says Brickey. “This
town is glowing.”

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