Market Eye: Finding Success in SuccessionThings still peachy-keen at Atlanta’s WSB amidst anchor overhaul 4/11/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Change is an ongoing theme in Atlanta. Several new faces sit in the
general manager offices: John Deushane, formerly the COO at Granite
Broadcasting, took over Gannett’s WXIA in June; Bill Schneider
was named general manager at Fox O&O WAGA in August; and
Tom Canedo started at CBS-owned CW outlet WUPA in December.
Suddenly, Kirk Black, who took over Meredith’s WGCL
in August 2009, is one of the senior GMs in DMA No. 8.
Bill Hoffman, the top dog at WSB, has been running
the Cox powerhouse for years. The ABC affiliate
is in what Hoffman calls “Phase 2” of a major succession
plan; after Zach Klein took over
sports, WSB went to work on increasing
co-anchor Justin Farmer’s on-air
presence, with John Pruitt—a 40-year
veteran of Atlanta television—stepping
down in December.
Hoffman says viewers have warmed
to Farmer alongside veteran Monica
Pearson. “The ratings look good, the
performance looks good,” Hoffman
says. “The audience seems to accept
WSB is a monster. It won total-day
household ratings in February, along
with 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and morning
news, while its 6.2 household rating/12
share at 11 p.m. bested WAGA’s 3.6/7.
WAGA posted a 6.4/10 with its 10 p.m.
newscast and easily won primetime.
While most every GM in the country
talks about the extraordinary competition
in their market, Atlanta features
particularly strong owners and an innovative
bunch of general managers. “It’s a
wonderful place to be a broadcaster,” Hoffman says. “We go
against well-established and smart broadcasters every day.”
WSB and WAGA have long been well ahead of the pack.
WAGA has a new face and new strategy in the mornings,
with Gurvir Dhindsa coming from Washington sister
WTTG and a harder news focus. “Viewers respond more
to what goes on in news than what goes on in the entertainment
world,” Schneider says.
WGCL and WXIA are making their plays. WGCL has
undergone a drastic transformation since Black took over.
It’s a hub for several Meredith stations’ functions, such as
traffic, master control and finance. Steve Schwaid, news
director, is head of digital content for the group and tests
initiatives in Atlanta before they’re rolled out groupwide.
On March 28, WGCL took over the management of
Turner’s WPCH, known as Peachtree TV. Black says the
younger demos of “Peach” match up well with WGCL’s
more mature viewers. “It’s another piece of the puzzle as
we make our Atlanta footprint bigger and better and more
substantial,” he says.
WXIA, which has an ad partnership with Yahoo, has
worked hard to extend its multiplatform reach. Deushane
refers to the “networks of 11 Alive,” including Gannett
Web staples MomsLikeMe.com, MetroMix.com and HighSchoolSports.net; 54 hyperlocal community sites powered
by DataSphere; and of course an NBC affiliate and the
MyNetworkTV affiliate WATL.
“We’re a lot more than just an NBC station,” he says. “We
have to be platform-ubiquitous.”
WXIA is pushing a big-time advocacy brand in its news,
and a help desk is designed to assist viewers with sorting
out everyday quandaries related to topics such as utilities or
weather (Atlanta essentially shut down for close to a week
after a snowstorm in January). Ellen Crooke, news director,
was named Gannett’s Innovator of the Year in 2010, no minor
distinction for a company that has 23 TV stations and
hundreds of newspapers, and WXIA’s journalists are encouraged
to not only spotlight problems in the community,
but help solve them too. “If we can make something better,
we try to do that,” Deushane says. “Most journalists shy
away from that, but we shy away from those journalists.”
WXIA and WAGA pair up on a helicopter and a video
share on planned community events. WGCL had been part
of the content co-op launch in 2009,
but stepped out of the arrangement
after the trial phase. WSB has never
taken part. “We respect the economics
of it, but we really enjoy the independence
of going it alone,” Hoffman
WUPA goes local with a new Atlanta.
CBSLocal.com site and The
Frank and Wanda Show, featuring a
pair of popular radio personalities,
each night at 10. Atlanta’s young and
diverse population is a right fit for
WUPA, Canedo says: “It’s helped us
be one of the top CW affi liates in the
Besides Cox, Atlanta is home to
the broadcaster Gray Television,
along with Time Warner’s Turner
division and, of course, CNN. The
merged AT&T and T-Mobile will be
based in Atlanta, a giant get for the
market. Comcast is the main cable
operator, and a battle is underway
among the various satellite and telco operators for the
Another battle will happen at 4 p.m. in September, when
WSB swaps out Oprah Winfrey for local news, and WAGA
counters with Dr. Oz.
“It will be an interesting time period,” Schneider says,
“as viewers sort through a new array of choices.”