Market Eye: No Coasting in Eastern Carolina

A Greenville weather icon dies; news ratings title up for grabs

Greenville-New Bern-Washington, N.C., lost one of its great icons when Skip Waters, longtime chief meteorologist at WCTI, died in late October at age 61. In a market where severe weather is a part of life, Waters, who died of natural causes related to a heart condition, was nothing short of “an institution and an icon,” says Lyle Schulze, WCTI-WFXI VP and GM.

Waters was a familiar presence at schools and events in DMA No. 99, and his folksy forecasts were part of the local fabric. “He knew every little town, every little crossroads, every monument in the community we serve,” says Schulze. “It was a very personal forecast.”

Donnie Cox, meteorologist at sister WCYB in the Tri-Cities (Va./Tenn.), is the new weather chief.

It’s mostly business as usual in the coastal market. WITN moved in to a new facility in 2013, departing an aging building in Chocowinity. There’s an open floor plan in the Greenville facility, the studio smack in the middle. “We left a little country town for a major thoroughfare in a growth city,” says Mark Gentner, VP and GM.

Home of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, WITN debuted 4:30 a.m. news in May 2014. No other station has followed suit.

0203_MarketEye_Chart.jpgGray Television owns WITN, an NBC affiliate with MyNetwork-TV on its dot-two. Bonten Media holds ABC outlet WCTI and operates Fox affiliate WFXI, owned by Esteem Broadcasting. Media General owns WNCT, a CBS affiliate, with The CW as a subchannel. Vickie Jones retired as GM last fall; regional VP Viki Regan is searching for the replacement. Suddenlink and Time Warner Cable are the primary subscription TV operators, though satellite penetration is very high.

WITN won the early a.m. race in the November sweeps while WCTI, with a ratings boost following Waters’ death, took early evening news. WITN posted a 5.3 household rating/19.1 share at 11 p.m., bettering WCTI’s 4.2/15. WNCT wasn’t off the pace much with a 3.4/12.2. WNCT won primetime and WCTI took the total-day households race and was tied with WITN in adults 25-54.

WITN thrives on producing the most news, says Gentner, and a vast reach in the region. WITN had a several-decades’ head start on fellow NBC affiliate WNCN’s launch in Raleigh-Durham, and therefore won viewers’ hearts in the capital market; Gentner says the station “steals” four counties in the DMA.

A handful of TVU live backpack units has helped WITN cover the market. “I think we have the most, and use them well,” says Gentner. “They help you look like you’re everywhere.”

WNCT will debuts weekend a.m. news April 4. WCTI plays up two marketing messages: Getting facts right, and severe weather coverage.

It’s a good, hard-fought race in eastern North Carolina. “We all play much bigger than we really are,” says Schulze. “This is a big-boy market.”

MERGER DONE, MEDIA GENERAL, WNCT LOOK AHEAD

WNCT has streamlined its branding, paring the previous “Eyewitness News 9 on Your Side” down to “News 9 on Your Side.” Taking out “Eyewitness” plays up the advocacy brand a bit more, say Viki Regan, Media General regional VP, and Johnny Lewis, general sales manager. Regan refers to “heart, health and pocketbooks” as “drivers” of the WNCT credo. “It’s a very far-reaching brand,” she says.

The expansion to weekend morning news reinforces “On Your Side.” “It fits perfectly in terms of making sure we are on viewers’ sides,” says Lewis.

With the merger of Media General and LIN done, WNCT has benefited from the digital savvy of LIN. “It’s striking how great the growth has been in terms of our digital aspects,” Lewis says, though he adds that it’s too soon to share traffic figures.