Market Eye: New York Capital Is All In

Temperature is brutally low, but Albany competition heats up

When the temperature hovers around zero, it’s smart to have good insulation. That’s the term some local TV executives in Albany use to describe the central New York market. As the Empire State capital, it is mostly insulated from the drag of recession, says Gary Holmes, news director at the local Time Warner Cable News channel. “Knock on wood, Albany has always been safe as the seat of state government,” says Holmes. “And hi-tech seems to be the only thing growing faster than we are.”

Time Warner Cable (TWC) is the dominant subscription TV operator, and its local news channel is the production hub for company news nets around the state. Both the severely cold February and the indictment of Sheldon Silver, former State Assembly speaker, were right in the net’s wheelhouse.

Hubbard Broadcasting’s WNYT is a local power. It acquired MyNetworkTV affiliate WNYA from Venture Technologies in 2013 with a failing station waiver. Up against stations owned by giants Media General and Sinclair, it helps to have a second station. “It had not been profitable,” says Steve Baboulis, VP/GM. “It’s now a growth situation.”

0302_MarketEye_Chart.jpgSinclair owns CBS affiliate WRGB and CW outlet WCWN. Media General has ABC-aligned WTEN, a former Young Broadcasting station. WTEN runs Fox affiliate WXXA, owned by Shield Media.

WNYT threw its hat into the 10 p.m. news ring in 2013 (see sidebar), and thrives on stable on-air talent and a robust presence at community events. The station is up for the challenge put forth by its scaled-up competitors. “The other guys are spending a lot of money,” says Baboulis, “and we are spending right alongside them.”

Awaiting February sweeps results at presstime, WNYT, WRGB and WTEN were virtually tied in November’s total-day households race. WRGB won primetime by a wide margin. It and WNYT were virtually level in early mornings, while WNYT took early evenings and grabbed the 11 p.m. contest with a 6 rating/22 share, ahead of WRGB’s 4/14 and WTEN’s 3/12.

Albany-Schenectady-Troy will someday, and perhaps someday soon, say good-bye to its paper diaries. The February book had Nielsen’s code readers for the first time, working concurrently with the diaries until they are scrapped. “It will be an interesting change for us,” says Baboulis.

Time Warner Cable News spent its February helping get local children into better shape. The network of news channels offered Fit Kid February, a multiplatform mission addressing childhood obesity. “It’s a good example of how we can all get behind one initiative,” says Holmes, “and tell the stories locally.”

Despite government, technology and universities, Albany’s economy has been lukewarm. DMA No. 58 has a revenue rank of No. 62, per BIA/Kelsey, but that’s up from No. 64 two years before. “It used to be [primarily] government,” says Baboulis. “But the hitech sector is really, really driving the economy now.”

ACQUISITION YIELDS NEW NEWSCAST

WNYT’s best resource is its news, so it looks to spread the NewsChannel 13 brand wherever and whenever it can. The opportunity came up 18 months ago at 10 p.m., after parent Hubbard had acquired WNYA. A year later, this past September, WNYA extended the 10 p.m. news to seven days a week. “Our philosophy is, find places where the competition is not as numerous,” says Steve Baboulis, VP and general manager. If it’s one or two competitors, and they’re not traditional Big Three affiliates, he adds, “we think there’s opportunity.”

WXXA’s 60-minute news is the one to beat, but Baboulis reports that WNYA’s 30-minute news pulled ahead of the local CW’s news in November. The numbers are modest—WXXA did a 2 rating, WNYA a 1—but they’re growing. “It’s slow growth, but we’re happy with it,” he says. “And we’re happy with the product.”