Local TV

Market Eye: This Train Makes All Local Stops

From Sandy to Newtown to Boston, news teams in Hartford-New Haven face big-story spree 4/29/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

What’s Working in Hartford-New Haven

WVIT debuted a nine-person investigative team, including five reporters, early in 2012. “We will hold individuals, government officials and companies accountable and get to the root of important issues that affect our viewers and our state,” said then-GM David Doebler at the time.

Several NBC-owned stations, including WRC Washington and WMAQ Chicago, have added investigative units as part of Comcast’s efforts to re-energize the station group. WVIT’s “Troubleshooters” team works under the motto “Asking the tough questions and solving problems.”

One impactful report at “NBC Connecticut” was on Hartford residents’ personal documents—checking account numbers, driver’s license info—sitting in the open in an unsecured City Hall basement.

“It’s good, old-fashioned investigative journalism,” said Mike St. Peter, WVIT VP of news. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far. We’re really starting to have an impact.” —MM

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Hartford-New Haven might be shadowed by metropolises to the north
(Boston) and south (New York), but it has been a giant news market in
its own right the last six months. Hurricane Sandy was a massive story
in late October, and of course the Sandy Hook massacre in southwestern
Connecticut occurred in mid-December. That was followed by a blizzard in February, while the bombings in Boston, around 100
miles northeast of Hartford, saw the stations send live
trucks to cover the scene.

“As a market, we’ve had an enormous amount of big
breaking news stories,” says Mike St. Peter, WVIT VP
of news.

The stations themselves are making a bit of news
as well. NBC Owned Television Stations leadership is
searching for a general manager at WVIT, after David
Doebler moved to Chicago to run WMAQ following
Larry Wert’s departure. Wert went to Tribune earlier
this year, where he is president of local broadcasting,
and has a say in the unclear future of Tribune—
including its Hartford-New Haven TV stations (WTIC,
WCCT) and newspaper (Hartford Courant). Motorists
on I-84 can almost touch Tribune’s joint operation in
Hartford’s city center; if Tribune sells its newspapers,
it would change the media landscape in DMA No. 30.

“How this leaves Hartford is to be determined,”
says Rich Graziano, general manager at WTIC-WCCT.
“There are a lot of options and possibilities, but we
probably won’t know for close to a year.”

Even longtime market leader WFSB has not gone without
change. Last summer, Meredith’s CBS affiliate added
“On Your Side” to its branding; newscasts bear the heading
Channel 3 Eyewitness News—On Your Side. “People
want someone to stick up for them and ask the tough
questions and hold people accountable in the decisions
they make that affect people’s lives,” says Klarn DePalma,
VP and general manager. “It’s a brand that resonates.”

It’s hard to argue with WFSB’s success. The station
cruised to wins in all the major races—total day, prime,
morning, early evening, late news—in February. It
posted a 6.5 household rating/12.8 share at 11 p.m.,
ahead of WVIT’s 5.2/10.4.

WVIT is perhaps a more compelling story. Since Comcast
took over, NBC has invested in the station, including
a nine-person investigative team (see sidebar). After moving
into a slick new West Hartford facility in 2009, WVIT
has beefed up its New Haven studio as well. For the first
time in station history, WVIT was awarded a Peabody, for
its coverage of the Newtown murders. St. Peter reiterates
something his anchor said on-air—that the station would
gladly give back the award to rewrite history and undo
the horrors at Sandy Hook. It’s nonetheless a “significant
honor,” he says, for the WVIT troops.

WVIT’s ratings have grown for three straight books,
adds St. Peter. “We’re a solid No. 2 in adults 25-54,” he
says. “That wasn’t the case a year ago.”

Other players in the market include LIN Media’s
WTNH-WCTX pair, an ABC-MyNetworkTV duopoly.
Entravision has Univision-aligned WUVN. Comcast is
the primary subscription-TV operator.

WTNH has a dedicated weather site, WXEdge.com,
which says it is “For Weather Diehards Only.” It features
radar and meteorologists’ commentary.

Graziano suspects Tribune’s new leadership will continue
to invest in local TV news. That’s the trajectory
WTIC-WCCT is on; he says the Fox-CW duo offers
around eight hours a day of local news, up from a lone
hour as recently as 2006. “We have a lot of resources
committed to local news,” he says. “It’s our business.”

The Newtown tragedy—the town is in the New York
DMA but, as part of Connecticut, is very much a story
in Hartford-New Haven—has been in the newscasts
almost daily since the fateful day. The victims’ families
appearing in Washington during the Capitol Hill vote
on gun control measures, along with their visit to the
Boston Marathon, had the story front and center in the
market again. “It’s a true local event,” DePalma says.

The local economy is progressing. Unemployment remains
high, though BIA/Kelsey reports that Hartford-New
Haven outperforms its market size in terms of revenue—it
is No. 28 in the money category. “It’s always a challenge,
but overall, I feel like we’ve recovered,” DePalma says.

The stations are taking the fight to the digital platforms.
With help from some effective contesting, WVIT
has grown its Facebook followers to 219,000, ahead
of WFSB’s 188,000. DePalma is focused on expanding
and monetizing WFSB’s mobile offerings. “Right now
that’s where we see major upside in terms of users and
revenue opportunities,” he says.

The station executives agree that competition has
picked up in Hartford-New Haven. “NBC has stepped
up their game, WFSB are tough, tough players, and
(WTNH parent) LIN is a big company,” Graziano says.
“There are a lot of good competitors.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

What’s Working in Hartford-New Haven

WVIT debuted a nine-person investigative team, including five reporters, early in 2012. “We will hold individuals, government officials and companies accountable and get to the root of important issues that affect our viewers and our state,” said then-GM David Doebler at the time.

Several NBC-owned stations, including WRC Washington and WMAQ Chicago, have added investigative units as part of Comcast’s efforts to re-energize the station group. WVIT’s “Troubleshooters” team works under the motto “Asking the tough questions and solving problems.”

One impactful report at “NBC Connecticut” was on Hartford residents’ personal documents—checking account numbers, driver’s license info—sitting in the open in an unsecured City Hall basement.

“It’s good, old-fashioned investigative journalism,” said Mike St. Peter, WVIT VP of news. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far. We’re really starting to have an impact.” —MM

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