Market Eye: WPVI Philly Stakes Its Leadership Claim

CBS, Fox and NBC competitors all feature new assets, but the ABC-owned market leader keeps rolling ahead

WPVI has the formula figured out. Evolve the product, such as a splashy new video screen behind the news anchors or a sky-high camera mounted below the station helicopter that’s interactive for users. But keep the basics—winning talent, solid news chops, ubiquitous community service— consistent. It’s kept WPVI on top in Philadelphia for 37 years, says Bernie Prazenica, president and general manager.

“It’s consistency of brand, consistency of people, of format, of who we are and how we present ourselves,” Prazenica says. “We evolve our news all the time, but the basics don’t change.”

The ABC-owned station has stood up to stiff challenges from improved CBS, Fox and NBC network-owned stations, but it continues to thrive. WPVI won total-day household ratings handily in the May sweeps, and took morning, early evening and late news—the latter with a 7.4 household rating/ 14 share, ahead of WCAU’s 4.6/9. WPVI cruised through the adults 25-54 news races too, while CBS-owned KYW won primetime.

WCAU may be the more compelling story in DMA No. 4. Philadelphia is, of course, Comcast headquarters, and Eric Lerner, president and general manager, says the “NBC 10” logo appears on every Comcast-branded sign around town. WCAU put its snazzy Skyforce chopper in the air a year ago. Telemundo outlet WWSI, which joined the Comcast stable last year, hired 30 staffers and launched 6 and 11 p.m. news in January. “We are a duopoly,” says Lerner, who oversees both stations. “We’re together on virtually everything.”

WCAU claimed No. 2 in the key May news races, but other competitors are not idle. KYW Radio moved in with KYW in the 125,000- sq. ft., city-block-long CBS Broadcast Center. “Overnight, we created the largest broadcast newsroom in the marketplace,” says Jon Hitchcock, KYW president/GM.

KYW has launched weather and traffic mobile apps, along with two-minute news briefs on philadelphia.cbslocal.com.

Fox’s WTXF is hustling as well. The station “blew up” its morning set on-air this month (anchor Mike Jerrick, with an ersatz detonator and some special effects, did the honors). The station’s new look—along with the Jerrick- Alex Holley a.m. team—will officially debut Sept. 1. The new set is three in one, says VP and news director Jim Driscoll—one for the 4 a.m. program, one for the 7 and the other for weekend news that debuts Sept. 6.

The weekend program is #Fox29 Weekend; the hashtag is silent, but it suggests major interactivity. A crew of 15 “junior reporters”— college students reporting on issues important to them—is designed to bring in younger viewers.

Driscoll is pumped for fall. “I usually like summers to drag, but I can’t wait for September to get here,” he says.

Tribune owns MyNetworkTV station WPHL, which gets its 10 p.m. news from WPVI and features reruns of The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. Vincent Giannini, VP/GM, likes the supersized parent company. “The company gets better tools and it makes it easier to hire,” he says of Tribune. “We’re all starting to take advantage of it.”

CBS owns CW outlet WPSG. Univision has a duopoly in WUVP and WFPA. WMGM, licensed to Wildwood, N.J., will lose its NBC affiliation at the end of the year.

Comcast is, not surprisingly, Philly’s subscription TV giant. The company is building a 59-story, $1.2-billion headquarters that will house its stations. “We’ll go from one of the worst newsrooms I’ve ever seen,” says Lerner of WCAU’s antiquated space, “to one of the best.”

Yet it will take more than a modern newsroom to topple WPVI. “We keep moving downfield,” says Prazenica. “People know what to expect of us—we’ve done it a long time.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN PHILADELPHIA: WCAU: MORE WATCHDOGS MEAN MORE WATCHERS

Many stations have used investigative reporting to boost their stature (see “The New Value of Old-School News,” July 21), and WCAU is one of them. The station has a new senior investigative producer in Jim O’Donnell, previously at KGO San Francisco. Eric Lerner, WCAU president/GM, says it’s in the process of hiring a prominent investigative reporter as well to join veteran watchdog Harry Hairston on the beat.

“We’ve really focused on giving viewers more investigative,” says Lerner. “There’s plenty to look at in this city in terms of [it].”

It’s a way for WCAU to stand out with enterprise content, says Lerner, who notes that the station’s reporters also file enterprise stories that are unique to NBCPhiladelphia.com. “We do that on a regular basis,” he says. “It’s definitely helping digital performance, and I think it’s helping broadcast performance.”