Local TV

Opportunity Knox

New faces shaking up the game in eastern Tennessee 11/28/2010 11:01:00 PM Eastern

What’s Working In Knoxville

Stations are plugging new and different platforms to get their content to all corners of the Knoxville market. Chris Baker, WVLT executive VP/GM, is bullish on the station’s mobile strategy as 2011 beckons. “The number of users continues to grow substantially,” he says. “The product’s really on fire—it will be a big focus for us for next year.”

WBIR, meanwhile, has been putting its news on gas pumps around the region in the past year. Petrol patrons get a little news and weather in a four-minute gas ‘cast. President/ GM Jeff Lee talks about the station’s “shelf space” approach to getting its local programming in and on as many places as possible, as WBIR partners with local newspapers, radio and cable.

“We decided long ago to be everywhere our viewers might be looking for us,” Lee says. “We recognize that viewers’ expectations are wherever and whenever.” —MM

The beloved University of Tennessee football team may be having
an off year, including an entire October without a win,
but Knoxville remains as sports-mad as ever. WBXX debuted a Sunday-night sportsman’s block in September,
anchored by The Outdoorsman and
Outdoor News
. And WVLT featured weekly
primetime high school football throughout
the fall with Rivalry Thursday, on its “MyVLT”
multicast channel.

Paradoxically, the Volunteers’ woes on the
field may have boosted the team’s ratings.
“When UT is rebuilding, sometimes it impacts
attendance at the stadium,” says Chris Baker,
WVLT executive VP/general manager. “If anything,
that increases the numbers on television.”

Gannett’s WBIR had its usual monster
sweeps last May. The NBC affiliate won all of
the major races except for primetime, which
went to WVLT, Gray Television’s CBS outlet.
WBIR posted an 8.3 household rating/14
share with its 11 p.m. news in May, well
ahead of New Young Broadcasting’s WATE,
which had a 5.8/10. Raycom’s Fox affiliate
WTNZ was tops in 10 p.m. news.

Jeff Lee, WBIR president/GM, says the station
keeps on top by staying relevant, staying local
and striking just the right tone of sincerity in
what he calls a “medium-sized, Southern college
town. We’re ‘Straight From the Heart,’ and it’s
not just a slogan. It’s how we conduct ourselves.”

WATE airs ABC programming and has a new
general manager in Dan Phillippi, who took over
for Gwen Kinsey in October. (Kinsey ran New
Young’s stations in Knoxville and Nashville; each
outlet now has its own GM.) WBXX is a CW
affiliate that airs 10 p.m. news (a 12-minute program)
produced by WBIR; WBXX owner Acme
Communications has announced that all of its stations are for sale. WVLT airs MyNetworkTV
programming—and lots of local sports—on its
digital tier. “We have live programming almost
every night,” Baker says, along with big-time
college football on the main channel, as well as
on the digital outlet when games coincide (in
addition to CBS’ college grid games, WVLT has
a deal to air SEC games via ESPN).

The market’s primary pay-TV operators are
Comcast and Charter on the cable side, and
DirecTV and DISH for satellite. Major employers
include the government, UT, healthcare
and aluminum manufacturer Alcoa.

Stations are hustling to get ahead. WVLT is
building a new studio with an eye on a local
HD launch early in 2011. Acme Executive VP
John Hannon, who took over WBXX when
Phillippi went across the street to WATE, has
begun tapping everyday viewers to go on-air
and talk up the shows they like, and the station
in general. “We’ve got a nice blend of
viewers and occupations that watch our onair
and are on our air,” he says, mentioning
police officers, students and the mayor. “Even
though we’re not a major news station, it gives
us a chance to be a major community station.”

WBIR and WATE both launched 4:30 a.m.
newscasts Oct. 25. With New Young out of
bankruptcy, WATE has some ratings momentum.
“We’ve got really good people and wellknown
news talent,” says Phillippi.

But WBIR has that unparalleled connection
with viewers in eastern Tennessee. The
station is local from 4 to 6:30 p.m., and the
peculiarly titled Live at Five at Four offers a
mix of news and lifestyle fare that reflects
the sometimes sleepy market. “It’s what’s going
on around town,” says Lee. “There’s not
enough news in Knoxville to do 2½ hours of
early [evening] news.”

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

What’s Working In Knoxville

Stations are plugging new and different platforms to get their content to all corners of the Knoxville market. Chris Baker, WVLT executive VP/GM, is bullish on the station’s mobile strategy as 2011 beckons. “The number of users continues to grow substantially,” he says. “The product’s really on fire—it will be a big focus for us for next year.”

WBIR, meanwhile, has been putting its news on gas pumps around the region in the past year. Petrol patrons get a little news and weather in a four-minute gas ‘cast. President/ GM Jeff Lee talks about the station’s “shelf space” approach to getting its local programming in and on as many places as possible, as WBIR partners with local newspapers, radio and cable.

“We decided long ago to be everywhere our viewers might be looking for us,” Lee says. “We recognize that viewers’ expectations are wherever and whenever.” —MM

 

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