Market Eye: Pride of Milwaukee

WITI rides Idol's coattails to gains

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After a heady few months of euphoria, Milwaukee has crashed back to Earth. Yes, local boy Danny Gokey, the folksy crooner who made the final three on American Idol, was voted off May 13. Dubbed “the Pride of Milwaukee” by host Ryan Seacrest, Gokey was a major source of pride for the market, and a big ratings boost for Fox affiliate WITI.

The Local TV station made the most of it, with Gokey turning up on its morning program May 8—also known as Danny Gokey Day in the No. 35 DMA. “The response from the community was unbelievable,” says VP/General Manager Chuck Steinmetz. “We had 400 to 500 people lined up at 4:30 a.m. at the station to see him get out of the limo.”

WITI rode Gokey-mania to a primetime win in March, edging Hearst-Argyle's ABC outlet WISN and Weigel's CBS affiliate WDJT by a fraction, and saw big gains in late news (it airs an hour at 9 and 35 minutes at 10). WISN won a tight 6 a.m. race with a 4.5 household rating/18 share in March. WISN won evenings, while Journal Broadcast Group's NBC affiliate WTMJ won late news with a 9.5 household rating/16 share.

Milwaukee TV is rounded out by Sinclair's CW-MyNetwork TV duopoly WVTV/WCGV, and Weigel's Telemundo outlet WYTU. “I've never seen such a competitive market,” Steinmetz points out. “It's ultra-ultra competitive.”

Milwaukee has shifted from a manufacturing base to a service economy, with a strong financial services community. The general managers say sales are starting to pick up. “We're sensing that things should be getting better,” says WISN President/General Manager Jan Wade. “Other than auto, things are starting to turn around.”

With competition so heated, stations are on their toes. The Sinclair duopoly has shut off its analog signal. WITI relaunched its Website in January, with One Click Weather offering interactive radar for several communities. WDJT uses Twitter and Facebook to get news out fast. WISN had held multiple job fairs as part of its Project Economy campaign, and its interactive A-List feature on WISN.com allows users to pick their favorite local services.

WTMJ has added 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. newscasts; Steve Wexler, Journal Broadcast's executive VP of TV and radio, says the company's local radio personalities are contributing to the programs. “It gives the radio and TV stations a chance to leverage each other, but also provides a little more depth, detail and perspective on current events,” he says.

Business is slow, but Wexler says local marketers need television more than ever. “If local broadcasters continue to position themselves as being in the solutions business,” he points out, “they'll continue to be relevant.”

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