Market Eye: New England Meets New York

In Burlington (Vt.)-Plattsburgh (N.Y), the battle lines are clearly drawn: red (sox) state vs. blue (pinstripes) state

Fans of both baseball and cartography have traced the dividing line of Red Sox country and Yankee territory to central Connecticut, midway between Boston and the Bronx, but there’s another borderline further north. Baseball fans on the Burlington side of DMA No. 98 are all about the Sox, while those on the other side of Lake Champlain, in Plattsburgh, have a passion for pinstripes.

It’s a fun dilemma for the local sports departments. “We play it down the middle,” says Kyle Grimes, WPTZ president/GM, “until one of them is in the playoffs.”

Burlington-Plattsburgh has roughly two-thirds Vermont residents, 20% New Yorkers and 15% New Hampshire folks. The major metropolitan center is actually Montreal, Canada. “I’ve worked in hyphenated markets before, but none are truly hyphenated like this one,” says Grimes.

He was news director at WPTZ, moved to West Palm Beach as news director at sister Hearst TV station WPBF in 2008 and came back two years ago as GM at the NBC affiliate.

WCAX has been the market leader for eons. But as the Mount Mansfield group’s only station, the CBS outlet is in a different boat than its big-group peers. “It just gets to be more difficult,” concedes Peter Martin, WCAX president/GM.

0403_MarketEye_chartRevised.jpgWPTZ and WCAX are the frontrunners, but a capital infusion from Nexstar is improving the look and performance of ABC affiliate WVNY and Fox outlet WFFF. Nexstar/Mission Broadcasting paid $17.1 million for the pair and set up Roger Hess as GM. The stations used to go by ABC 22 and Fox 44, but now are Local 22 and Local 44. “There’s local in everything we do,” says Hess.

Hess calls it a “complete rebrand,” including sets and studios. But it’ll be some time before the pair catch WCAX and WPTZ. WCAX won mornings and early evenings in the February sweeps and put up a 4.1 household rating/24.3 share at 11 p.m. to WPTZ’s 2.9/17.3, thanks to a giant primetime win. While WCAX won the total-day household race, WPTZ grabbed that 25-54 title.

WPTZ had a CW/Me-TV hybrid on its dot-two, but last fall gave each its own subchannel and slotted a 10 p.m. news on “The Valley CW.” The CW and Me- TV have very different audiences, says Grimes, and each deserved its own turf. “We have three unique, strong properties that speak to a wide audience,” he says.

Comcast is the DMA’s primary subscription TV operator.

The market has a mix of hi-tech along with a large agricultural base. Burlington has long been synonymous with high-quality niche products, whether it’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or the many maple syrup purveyors. The explosion of craft breweries, including Long Trail and Hill Farmstead, is an extension of this ethos. “Vermont has taken to craft beer in a big way,” says Grimes. Brittney Hibbs, a.m. anchor at WVNY-WFFF, covers local brews in weekly “What’s On Tap?” segments.

The DMA has had its economic challenges, but Burlington-Plattsburgh, framed by the Adirondacks on one side and the Green Mountains on the other, offers unique beauty. “For those hardy enough to bear the winters,” says Grimes, “it’s a great place to live.”

NEW NEWS IS GOOD NEWS

Kyle Grimes, WPTZ president and general manager, was not expecting massive numbers for the new 10 p.m. news on the station’s CW. After all, it’s a subchannel in a Nielsen diary market. But Grimes has been pleased to see 0.2 ratings in the key demos. “Seeing numbers there is awesome,” he says.

WVNY had scrapped newscasts back in 2003, laying off 25 people, but brought news back five years later. It and WFFF share a website and a “Local News That Matters” branding statement. “Everything is HD, everything is state-of-the-art,” says Roger Hess, VP and general manager. “I think it looks great.”

Hess spent a long career in TV sales in Hartford-New Haven (Conn.), as well as New York City, before moving to Burlington. “The pace of life is so much better here,” he says.