Market Eye: Rhode Warriors

In local news, there are good providers in Providence

Providence, R.I.-New Bedford, Mass., and Media General’s holdings in the market, are emblematic of the wild merger activity of the past few years among TV station groups. Media General had owned NBC affiliate WJAR. To expedite its merger with LIN, which held WPRI Providence, it sold WJAR to Sinclair last year. So Media General remains in DMA No. 53—only with a different horse in the race.

Vic Vetters, WJAR general manager, calls 2015 “a transition year…again.” It switched to Sinclair’s traffic system, with other functions, including graphics and master control, to migrate next. The station gets scale and technical know-how from Sinclair. “They are smart broadcasters,” he says.

The folks at WPRI-WNAC, meanwhile, are pleased with their new parent too. Patrick Wholey, VP and general manager, calls Media General a “progressive media company. All indications of the direction of the company are that they are dedicated to local media and all three screens,” he says.

WPRI services WNAC through an operating agreement. WNAC airs MyNetworkTV on its MyRITV subchannel.

Media General is spending big to beef up the CBS-Fox pair’s investigative reporting. The stations crank out 8½ hours of news a day.

0304_MarketEye_Chart.jpgCitadel owns ABC affiliate WLNE, and has been spending as well. The station stayed with coverage following an address from Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, says VP and general manager Chris Tzianabos, when the competition went back to scheduled programming. “We are trying to prove we can compete, even though we have fewer resources,” he says.

The ratings for WLNE’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts are well up, he adds, thanks to the severe weather and a winning anchor team in John DeLuca and Alexandra Cowley. “They’ve found their sea legs and we’re getting a lot of great feedback on the pairing,” says Tzianabos.

OTA Broadcasting owns CW affiliate WLWC. Tina Castano, VP and general manager, notes the “very strong” fall performance in prime.

Cox is the market’s primary subscription TV operator. It partners with WJAR on OSN (Ocean State Networks). “We get to extend our brand, and it reaches out-of-home viewers,” says Vetters, mentioning the various Dunkin’ Donuts and doctors’ offices airing the channel.

WJAR_Bill Rappleye.jpgWJAR won the news races in the February sweeps, including a 7.3 household rating/15 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WPRI’s 4.8/10. WNAC’s 10 p.m. news put up a 4.4/7 and is strong in the demo. WJAR won prime households.

The winter was brutal, even by New England’s standards. That meant massive news ratings—Vetters mentions 18 and 19 household ratings at 6 p.m. during blizzards—but a weak retail scene. “We hope it will pick up,” says Castano.

Amidst the ownership change, WJAR thrives on consistency, including enviable staffer seniority; Vetters says the average employee has 14 years at WJAR. “I’ve worked in other markets,” he says. “I’d say that’s top of the list.”

WITH COMPETITION IN N.Y., WNAC STAYS IN PROVIDENCE

WNAC debuted a 6:30 p.m. newscast just over a year ago. The Fox affiliate created a two-hour local news block with sister WPRI, which shows The CBS Evening News at 6:30, and gives viewers a local option. “I wanted something to compete with the national newscasts,” says Patrick Wholey, VP/GM.

WNAC moved Entertainment Tonight to 6 p.m. to make room for Eyewitness News at 6:30. Wholey says the news program, with a 1.6 household rating in February, has tripled the ratings of its predecessor. The joint Eyewitness News brand has considerable momentum, says Wholey, so extending it made sense. “We’ve been all over the major stories,” he says, citing the trial of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez and an FBI raid at former Rhode Island House speaker Gordon Fox’s office and home.