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Baltimore’s Turf War

In two-station battle, WBAL gains edge 2/20/2005 07:00:00 PM Eastern

In the dark of winter, mornings are red-hot at WBAL Baltimore. In January, for the first time, the Hearst-Argyle–owned NBC affiliate claimed top ratings in local morning news, a daypart historically dominated by cross-town rival WJZ. It was a tight contest: WBAL edged out the CBS O&O by less than a rating point.

The Demos
Who Share of population Index*
*Index is a measurement of consumer likelihood. An index of 100 indicates that the market is on par with the average of the 75 local markets.
Source: Scarborough Release 1 2004 75 Markets Report (February ’03-March ’04)
College grad 27% 112
White 71% 86
Black 25% 210
Hispanic 3% 21
Asian 2% 59

In the 5 a.m. hour, WBAL posted a 4.6 rating/19 share versus WJZ’s 4.0/17. At 6 a.m., both stations perked up, with WBAL grabbing a 7.1/24 and WJZ pulling in a 6.5/22. Scripps Howard’s ABC affiliate WMAR and Sinclair’s Fox station WUTB are also in the news mix but are minor players in the turf war.

Such morning numbers are large for any TV market. In Baltimore, it’s just business as usual. So it’s no surprise that early-evening and late-news Nielsen marks are equally stellar. Last month, WBAL grabbed a 12.1/21 at 11 p.m., and WJZ isn’t far behind with 11.0/19. That second-place rating is better than the top-rated station in many top markets.

For WBAL, the morning win is particularly sweet, since it has always been WJZ’s domain. “We have thrown more resources at the morning to try and topple the king,” says WBAL President/GM Bill Fine, adding, “We have the right team in place now.” Of course, WJZ is a fierce competitor. The station programs seven hours of local news daily, including a 4 p.m. newscast (which ranks second behind The Oprah Winfrey Show on WBAL). “We give viewers options,” says WJZ VP/GM Jay Newman. The station wins prime time. And in 2006, Dr. Phil will move from WBAL to WJZ.

Both stations service a booming market. In October 2003, Baltimore accomplished a rare Nielsen feat: moving up a notch in market size to 23rd. Thanks, in part, to its proximity to Washington—less than 40 miles separate the cities—the local economy is growing. “People work and socialize in both cities more than ever before,” Newman notes.

That translates into healthy economic gains for local broadcasters. Baltimore stations are projected to take in $240 million in revenue this year, up from $221 million in 2003. The local ad market grew about 10% last year.

Comcast is the area’s major cable operator, and cable penetration is high at 74%. The cable company is also a local programmer, operating regional sports channel Comcast SportsNet and regional news channel CN8.

Baltimore is also battling a bad reputation. Crime is down, but the murder rate is up; it’s very high compared with other U.S. cities. Still, Fine says, downtown is slowly being revitalized: “The city has redevelopment plants to take blighted areas and turn them into places to live, work and play.” NeXT: Lexington, Ky.


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