Market Eye: Orange You Glad It’s Not Winter?

Future is bright for Syracuse stations, including Nexstar’s leader

There isn't much to say about a Syracuse, N.Y., winter that hasn’t already been said, often spiced up with colorful language. But for now, residents are out and about and enjoying a gorgeous fall. The TV outlets set up shop at the state fair in late August and early September, broadcasting the news and sampling corn dogs with fellow residents. Weeks later, there’s another reason to celebrate—while much of central and western New York State is losing residents, Syracuse moved up a slot to No. 84 in the most recent Nielsen market rankings.

“We are headed in the right direction,” says Theresa Underwood, VP and general manager at WSYR.

This time of year also means new program offerings. WSYR debuted a 4 p.m. news in place of the departed syndicated program Katie Sept. 15. “It’s innovation-heavy and focuses on what’s trending,” says Underwood, of the social media-rich broadcast.

Part of Sinclair, WSTM has the group’s American Sports Network, with college games split between a dot-three channel and the local CW, which Sinclair runs on a subchannel. “We have the luxury of so much sports,” says Amy Collins, general manager.

That’s due in part to Sinclair’s vast reach in Syracuse. The group owns NBC affiliate WSTM and operates Granite-owned WTVH, a CBS affiliate, through joint sales/shared services agreements.

Yet Nexstar’s WSYR remains a power. The ABC affiliate put up a 6.8 household rating/28 share at 11 p.m. in May, ahead of WSTM’s 3.1/13, and ruled the adults 25-54 race too. “They’re head and shoulders above everyone else and have been for a long time,” says Don O’Connor, general manager at Fox affiliate WSYT. “If you want news, that’s the place to go.”

BIA/Kelsey had WSYR at an estimated $14.9 million in 2013 revenue, ahead of WSTM’s $12.1 million.

WSYR thrives on staffer tenure; the anchor duo of Rod Wood and Carrie Lazarus, together 28 years, is among the longest running in the nation. And it’s not just the anchors with long runs. “Our staff loves living and working in central New York,” Underwood says.

Brian Brady acquired WSYT from Sinclair last year for $20 million, following Sinclair’s acquisition of WSTM from Barrington. WSYT operates MyNetwork- TV-aligned WNYS, which is owned by RKM Media. The pair run off-network programs—court shows, Hot in Cleveland, The Big Bang Theory—and no news, which O’Connor says there is plenty of in the market. “We do television the old-fashioned way,” says O’Connor. “We buy syndicated programming, promote it and sell it.”

Time Warner Cable is the dominant subscription TV operator in Syracuse, and has rebranded its local YNN channel with the Time Warner Cable News moniker. The channel has been dedicating “an inordinate amount of coverage,” says Steve Paulus, senior VP of news and local programming, to the governor’s race that features incumbent Andrew Cuomo and downstate challenger Rob Astorino. TWC’s Syracuse channel is a weather hub and gets bureau reports from Utica and Ithaca, as well as stories from sister news nets throughout the state.

The local economy is holding its own. Syracuse’s rank in revenue matches its market size, which is something of an accomplishment for an upstate New York market. “Central New York is never up 4%-5% and never down 4%-5%,” says O’Connor. “It’s slow growth here.”

There’s a vast medical presence among the major employers, and Syracuse University is easily the region’s highest profile entity. O’Connor calls the university an immeasurable source of “recognition and energy.” The iconic Orange basketball squad, coached by Jim Boeheim for the past 38 years, kicks off its 2014-15 campaign Nov. 2 at the Carrier Dome. Time Warner Cable airs the hardwood action.

“It’s amazing what a tremendous college and sports program does for a market like ours,” O’Connor says. “I can’t say enough about what Syracuse has done for our city’s psyche and its exposure nationally.”

The stations are trying hard to get the upper hand. Sinclair has spent big on its Syracuse operation, says Collins, including personnel, graphics and a new set. The crowning achievement will be turning on HD in the first quarter of ‘15. “It will be fantastic,” she says.

WSYR has a new program, Newsmakers With Dan Cummings, on Sunday mornings, which takes two or three stories each week that deserve more airtime and goes long on them. The station airs Extraordinary People and Places in Central New York quarterly, and segments now pop up in the new 4 p.m. news. WSYR has five mobile apps, including one dedicated to its “Friday Night Fever” high school sports coverage. “We’re not done,” says Underwood of the mobile offerings.

WSYR is, by all accounts, a tough competitor. And when the fair weather in Syracuse inevitably turns to blizzards, its weather department has what Underwood says is the market’s lone live local Doppler radar. “When there’s six months of winter,” she says, “that’s an important thing.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN SYRACUSE: WEATHER ON THE 1S…AND THE COASTS

Syracuse is the weather hub for Time Warner Cable News’ New York State operation. That means providing weather not just for Albany, Utica, Watertown and Rochester, among other cities across the Empire State, but far-flung markets such as Cleveland and even Southern California, including Orange, Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

The nation-spanning weather coverage has been going on for about a year and a half, and Michael Gouldrick, director of meteorology at Time Warner Cable, is responsible for the forecasting. On subsequent days in mid-September, he tweeted about snow approaching Buffalo— and triple-figure temps in Southern Cal. Technology makes it all possible, he says. “The Internet is a powerful tool for weather information, from current observations to model data,” says Gouldrick, “and nowadays just about every city has a webcam to get some ground truth of what you’re forecasting.”