Market Eye: Shaking Off the Rust

KDKA is a force in Pittsburgh, and 'Thursday Night Football' will make it that much tougher this fall

While its resurgence has been well documented, Pittsburgh is no Honolulu. But it’s close. Last month, The Economist rated Pittsburgh the second most “livable” city in the U.S., based on factors such as stability, health care, culture and education—second only to the Hawaiian capital. It’s yet another indication that Pittsburgh has shed its Rust Belt image and remade itself as a progressive city teeming with big brains.

“There’s a real positive future here,” says Chris Pike, KDKA VP and general manager. “A lot of cities that are considered peers of Pittsburgh can’t say the same thing.”

KDKA too is on a roll. The CBSowned station romped in the May sweeps ratings, winning total-day households, along with primetime, early evening and late news—the latter with an 8.2 household rating and 15 share, ahead of WTAE’s 6.9/12.7. But it’s competitive: Hearst TV-owned WTAE, the ABC affiliate, won the morning news race. WPXI, Cox Media Group’s NBC affiliate, is a power in adults 25-54, taking late news by a tenth of a point thanks to a strong prime and tenacious news operation. “It’s a ridiculously competitive market,” says Ray Carter, WPXI VP/general manager.

Sinclair owns both Fox affiliate WPGH and MyNetworkTV station WPMY. Besides KDKA, CBS owns CW-aligned WPCW. Cornerstone has religious station WPCB, which is using its new show Real Life to launch offshoot programs, such as the talker Sister 2 Sister. The primary subscription TV operator is Comcast.

KDKA led the DMA No. 23 revenue race last year with an estimated $52.2 million, according to BIA/Kelsey. WPXI pulled in an estimated $45.6 million while WTAE did $35.1 million. Besides CBS’ foolproof prime, KDKA thrives with consistency on both sides of the camera, says Pike. The station employs an “Expect More” brand and aims to do sweeps-worthy work daily. “It’s 52 weeks a year,” says Pike. “We give people a reason to watch every day.”

WPGH gets its 10 p.m. news from WPXI, which Jim Lapiana, general manager at WPGH-WPMY, calls a “very successful” long-term partnership. Morning news, if not on the drawing board, is at least on the table.

The stations are making unique use of their subchannels. WPMY airs Sinclair’s American Sports Network. “So far, so good,” says Lapiana.

WPCB debuted “Pittsburgh Faith and Family Channel” on its subchannel last month. Local churches submit their programs, and WPCB airs the video Sundays, with repeats during the week. “It’s a brand new thing for us,” says Tom Hollis, Cornerstone director of outreach. “We’re excited to make the connection with the churches in the community.”

WTAE began airing Steve Harvey on Sept. 8. WPXI has Rachael Ray. WPCB has a new Saturday primetime block. KDKA is pumped about Thursday Night Football which, as luck would have it, was set to kick off with the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens Sept. 11. “It’s the biggest new thing for us,” says Pike of CBS’ new Thursday NFL package.

The Pittsburgh economy, bolstered by education and health care, is doing well. Capitalizing on the bright minds at Carnegie Mellon and other universities, Google is expanding its local operation. Add natural gas to the portfolio—the lucrative Marcellus Shale sits below the market. “They just scratched the surface on that,” says Pike.

With older-skewing demographics, Pittsburgh is an attractive TV market; Lapiana says the DMA has the most broadcast ratings points of any Local People Meter market, per Nielsen. “It’s a great market to buy TV in,” he says.

It may not be Honolulu, but Pittsburgh isn’t a bad place to live either. “It has a wide cultural and sports spectrum,” says Lapiana. “Pittsburgh’s a good family town with a lack of big-city problems.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN PITTSBURGH: DINNER AND A MOVIE, MUSIC, A FEW LAUGHS ON WPCB

The party is on at WPCB this Saturday. The religious broadcaster debuted Cornerstone Block Party Sept. 6, and airs the entertainment block 6-9 p.m. Saturdays. It features a Christian movie; the acquired show What’s So Funny, which offers family-friendly comedians; and the new Living Room Concert Series, showcasing gospel and Christian artists performing in what Tom Hollis, director of outreach, calls an “unplugged” setting.

Hollis is also cohost, with Amanda Brougher, of the Saturday block. “We do an intro and cut-ins, little updates on what’s going on,” he says.

The Cornerstone network airs on around 60 stations, says Hollis. WPCB is the flagship, and Hollis credits new president/CEO Don Black for doing some “amazing things” with the network, and the station.