Market Eye: Rich Offerings In the Commonwealth

Visitors from all over the world will see Richmond up close later this year

What was once a fairly sleepy Mid-Atlantic city has become a top-flight entertainment destination, say the Richmond, Va., locals. There’s a bustling foodie scene, a hopping craft beer culture, and the season of outdoor frolic is well underway in the Virginia capital. Mid-May saw the Dominion RiverRock outdoor sports and music festival. There’s the Richmond Jazz Festival in August, and the Road World Championship cycling event in September will attract riders and fans from around the world. The bike race, one of cycling’s marquee contests, is held annually in an international city (last year’s was in Ponferrada, Spain). The events give the Richmond TV stations plenty to cover.

“You’re starting to see people get into summer mode,” says Kym Grinnage, VP/general manager of WWBT.

The spring weather has been near-perfect, which is good for just about everyone except those who make their livings based on television ratings. “People are spending a lot of time outdoors,” Grinnage says. “It will be an interesting [May sweeps] book.”

Richmond-Petersburg is unique in that three stations are within seven percentage points in terms of revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey’s 2014 estimates, and No. 4 is not far off the pace. Raycom has NBC affiliate WWBT, which BIA/Kelsey says pulled in an estimated $26.6 million last year. Tribune owns CBS-aligned WTVR, which booked $21.8 million, while Media General, headquartered in Richmond, has local ABC station WRIC ($20.2 million).

0601_Market_chart_0.jpgBut it’s clearly WWBT’s crown. The station won total-day ratings in the February sweeps, seized the local news races and even took primetime—rare for an NBC affiliate. WRIC had an 8.4 household rating/15.3 share at 11 p.m., while WTVR put up a 6.8/12.4. WWBT won 11 p.m. adults 25-54 by a similar margin, while WRIC was runner-up.

There’s mutual respect between stations across the board in DMA No. 57. “It’s a strong group of stations in this town,” says Viki Regan, WRIC general manager as well as a regional VP at Media General. “They’re exceptional competitors.”

Comcast is the primary subscription TV operator in what is called “The RVA.” Sinclair owns Fox affiliate WRLH, which has MyNetworkTV on its dot-two channel. The local CW outlet, WUPV, is owned by American Spirit Media and operated by WWBT. Doug Sutton was named WUPV general manager in late May. The station, he says, “proudly provides a reflection of the diverse Richmond market.”

WTVR offers the most local news in the market, says Stephen Hayes, president and general manager. The station converted its dot-three channel to all-news June 1. WTVR’s 6 p.m. news is often pre-empted on fall weekends by CBS’ SEC and NFL football broadcasts, though Hayes notes those newscasts do air on the dot-three.

Nielsen will begin rating WTVR’s dot-three channel starting July 1. The research giant is taking steps to stabilize the DMA’s ratings, aiming to phase out demo diaries and incorporate viewing models from outside Richmond in an effort to broaden the local sample. But Nielsen informed clients in Richmond and other markets last week that launch plans for its “Ratings Stabilization” effort are on “pause” until next year.

The smart money says WWBT will continue to rule the news ratings. “Our focus is all about local, and concentrating on the multiscreen environment,” says Grinnage. “Everything we do, we make sure is robust on all platforms.”

WWBT has a new general sales manager in Joel Mark. WTVR has a new graphics package and “Heroes Among Us” segments. WRIC employs a “News Where You Live” tag line.

Local TV execs say Richmond offers natural beauty and, increasingly, big-city diversions. “It has the benefits of a large metro,” says Hayes, “without a lot of the large-metro hassles.”

STATIONS SHOW TRUE GRIT ON DIGITAL FRONT

The Richmond stations are finding interesting uses for their multicast capacity. WTVR has Antenna TV on its dot-two and its new news channel on the dot-three. WUPV offers Bounce TV and action movies network Grit. WWBT has diginet newbie Escape, which shows movies and programs that are “daring, sexy and anchored in stories of crime and mystery,” according to the network, for a mostly female audience; the station also offers Weigel Broadcasting’s vintage-series network Me-TV.

Staying true to its mission of being a leader on all screens, WWBT has new weather and news apps and employs a social media-first philosophy in the newsroom. “We find that a lot of times, that’s where people go first,” says Kym Grinnage, VP/GM.

With LIN Media incorporated into Media General, WRIC has benefited from LIN’s digital savvy, says Viki Regan, regional VP and WRIC GM. Before the merger, LIN had been an active acquirer of digital properties, including HYFN, Nami Media and Dedicated Media.

“The products and resources we have in terms of multiscreen have been an incredible gift,” Regan says. “[The former LIN digital execs] do things well.”