Market Eye: Mega Reach in Mini Market

Tiny DMA No. 199 boasts affiliates of all Big Four networks. Even more unusual: The stations share a single owner—Block.

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Lima

WTLW is in on the subchannel game with WOSN: West Ohio Sports Network. Kevin Bowers, president /GM of WTLW, mentions “microcasting”—reaching smaller slices of the Lima market with track meets, quiz shows, home run contests and a soap box derby. “We assessed our strategic plan and what the needs of the market are, and it’s microcasting to specific parts of the community within the larger community,” Bowers says.

WOSN airs the Sports Report wrap-up show three evenings a week. Time Warner Cable’s carriage of both 44.1 and 44.2 indicates the local relevance of WTLW, Bowers says.

The local fare also reinforces WTLW’s roots in Lima—something the Block behemoth can’t claim. “We’re the only locally owned station in the market,” Bowers notes. —MM

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It is perhaps the most unique collection of local TV assets under one roof. Block Communications owns the NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates in tiny Lima, Ohio (population: 38,000). NBC affiliate WLIO is a primary channel and the big dog in DMA No. 199, and ABC outlet WOHL is a primary too. Fox airs on WLIO’s dot-two, while CBS does the same on WOHL’s. The stations share “Your News Now” branding.

Even in this age of increased consolidation, few if any markets feature such a cluster of Big Four affiliates owned by the same broadcaster. “I’ve heard of three majors and a Telemundo, but I think we are the only one with the four major networks under one umbrella,” says Kevin Creamer, president and general manager of the four Lima stations. “It makes you feel pretty special.”

But wait—there’s more. Block also owns the local MyNetworkTV, which airs on the Fox station from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.

The Lima setup passes muster with the regulatory powers because two of the four stations are low-powers, and because Block bought the Fox, CBS and ABC ones via failing station waivers.

It is uncommon for very small markets to feature all Big Four affiliates. No. 198 Mankato (Minn.) has a CBS affiliate, which runs Fox on its dot-two, but no NBC or ABC, according to BIA/Kelsey. No. 200 Ottumwa-Kirksville (Iowa-Mo.) has no local NBC.

Creamer says there are 530 program feeds coming into Block’s Lima operation, and 36 satellite dishes. “It looks like a dish farm on the side of our building,” he says.

Staffers wear numerous hats in Lima. Creamer is the national sales manager. Jeff Fitzgerald is an anchor and the acting news director; he is being given a chance to show he can run the newsroom as the station considers applicants who want to oversee Block’s vast western Ohio operation. “There’s plenty of space and time for all the news in Lima,” Fitzgerald says.

The news day starts at 6 a.m. on WLIO, which grabbed 53.8% of the market’s revenue in 2012, estimates BIA/Kelsey. The 6 a.m. news is simulcast on WOHL. WLIO extended its noon news to an hour last October. The Fox station offers 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts, while the traditional Big Three share the 6 and 11 p.m. programs. “There’s a generic set—no eye, no peacock—so we can service all the properties,” says Creamer.

There are separate sales staffs: NBC and CBS go against ABC and Fox, a setup which Creamer says does the best job of playing up each station’s strengths and stoking competition.

There isn’t much competition beyond Block’s walls. American Christian Television Service owns nonprofit indie WTLW, which shows family and spiritual programming and local sports. WTLW is pushing a “microcasting” strategy, says Kevin Bowers, president/GM, with hyperlocal programming tailored to sections of the market. “It’s our niche in the market,” Bowers says, “considering the affiliates are all tied up with Block.” WTLW does air 30-second spots, but mostly relies on sponsors and gifts.

Time Warner Cable is the main subscription TV operator; CW-Plus airs on TWC.

Creamer describes Lima as a retail “hub” for western Ohio. Home to the defense contractor General Dynamics, which makes Abrams tanks, and a wide range of health care outfits, it easily outranks its market size in revenue, coming in at No. 182, according to BIA/Kelsey. Political spending last year was off the charts.

Block is hoping to switch on local HD by early fall. WLIO turns 60 in October. Station execs here say there’s something special about TV in Lima. “A lot of markets our size beg stations to be in their community,” says Fitzgerald. “The nice thing about the small markets is the community really embraces the stations.”

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