Market Eye: Tampa Bay Bucks

Big batch of viable TV outlets fight for ad dough in coastal Florida market

Perhaps no other market in the nation features as many competitive local TV outlets as Tampa. It’s got the traditional Big Four, owned by major players, including an extraordinarily potent Fox. It’s got a CW station owned by CBS and a lively independent that’s part of Hearst. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota has a 24-hour cable news channel, Spanish-language offerings and even a second ABC affiliate.

It makes for a very active local TV scene in DMA No. 13. “There are seven very good stations in the market, and we like to think we’re one of those,” says Ken Lucas, president and general manager of Hearst TV’s WMOR.

Media General closed on its acquisition of MyNetworkTV affiliate WTTA late last year; 20-plus staffers moved in with NBC-aligned WFLA in December. The news outlets had a hot governor’s race to cover in the fall. Such stories are in cable channel Bay News 9’s wheelhouse. “We were the only channel to have continuous live coverage throughout the evening,” says Alan Mason, VP of local programming at Bright House Networks. “It was a huge night for us.”

Mason marked a year on the job in November, succeeding Elliott Wiser, who stepped over to run Gannett’s WTSP in mid-2013. Wiser is executing an overhaul at the CBS affiliate. There’s a five-person investigative unit now, a tenacious community relations game plan and consistent branding. “We had to establish a viable brand and stick with it,” he says.

Staffers see three-legged stools around the station, a reminder of WTSP’s three-pronged strategy: investigative, weather and what it calls “viewer values.” The work is paying off: WTSP claimed a prestigious du-Pont-Columbia award in late December. Only four commercial TV stations around the nation were so honored; notably, two of them operate in Tampa, the other being Scripps’ ABC affiliate WFTS.

0102_MarketEye_TampaChart.jpgLike WTSP, WFLA is tinkering too, with an eye on more aggressive breaking news and weather coverage in the storm-prone market. The station is also adopting some LIN Media digital best practices following Media General’s acquisition of that group. “Overall, we’re just producing better content and promoting it more effectively,” says Andy Alford, president and general manager.

But WTVT is the one to beat. The Fox owned and operated station tied WTSP in total-day household ratings in November, but won the 25-54 race handily. WTVT dominates morning and early evening news. It’s got the only 10 p.m. news in town, putting up a 3.9 household rating/6 share, and 1.7/4 in the demo. The 11 p.m. race is crazy-close: WFTS had a 3.6/7, WFLA a 3.5/7 and WTSP a 3.4/7, while WFTS was tops in that demo race. WTSP is the big winner in prime.

“It boils down to talent,” says Jeff Maloney, WTVT VP and general manager. “We’re the ‘hometown station’—we have folks that are relatable and speak to the needs and sensibilities of the community.”

WTVT has made changes to its morning team; Maloney calls it an attempt to “freshen things up a bit” and extend the station’s lead.

CW outlet WTOG and independent WMOR are not in the news game. With a savvy promotional effort, WTOG has one of the top-rated CW primes in the nation, with a double run of Mike & Molly leading in. “It’s not the younger-skewing network, per se, that a lot of people think of us as,” says Stan Gill, VP and general manager.

WMOR had fun with its “Mother-Modern-Bang” promotion, challenging viewers around the market to say the tongue twister-ish shorthand for How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, all with double runs from 5-8 p.m. “We are in the off-net situation comedy business,” says Lucas. “That’s the formula that works best for us.”

Other broadcast players include Univision-aligned WVEA and Southern Broadcast Corp.’s WWSB, which airs ABC programming in Sarasota. Tampa-St. Pete is a vast market with a smaller city sensibility, say the TV execs. “You do know your neighbors and store owners and clients,” says Maloney. “There’s a true sense of community.”

NEWS CHANNEL COVERS CANAL

When the Panama Canal marked its 100th anniversary last August, a two-person crew from Bay News 9 was there. An initiative to widen the canal and increase its traffic is underway, and that has a significant impact on Port Tampa Bay. “We said, ‘Let’s go down there and see what the new canal looks like, and how it impacts Tampa Bay in particular,’” says Alan Mason, VP of local programming at parent Bright House Networks.

Anchor Veronica Cintron and photographer Matt Apthorp spent a week in Panama; the series ran in Bay News 9’s newscasts, on-demand and online.

Roughly every year, Bay News 9 will send a crew to a Latin American nation, such as Cuba, for a timely series. Bright House’s Orlando sibling, News 13, was in Haiti in late December to see the efforts to rebuild five years after the earthquake.

Mason says viewers appreciate the enterprise stories. “We didn’t get a ton of feedback,” he says, “but what we did get was good and positive.”