Market Eye: Hot ’Lanta Cooking As WSB Turns Up the Heat

Competitors to No. 1 station trying everything from grassroots marketing to sports to syndicated fare

mmalone@nbmedia.com | @BCMikeMalone

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Nothing, it appears, can slow down WSB Atlanta. The Cox
Media Group station survived the retirement of lead anchor John Pruitt a few years back, and again stayed strong when
Pruitt’s longtime partner, Monica Pearson,
wrapped up 37 years at WSB last year.

The ABC affiliate thrives on savvy hires,
says Tim McVay, VP and general manager, and
a steely focus on execution. “We’ve been able
to grow upon our leadership position, and
that’s awful hard to do,” says McVay, who
credits Pearson for smoothing the transition.

McVay took over WSB two years ago. Trey
Fabacher, a CBS veteran, was named WGCL
general manager a year ago. Jack Walsh, former
WGCL local sales manager, became general
manager at WUPA late last year.

WSB took all the major ratings races in the
May sweeps, including primetime, and grabbed
11 p.m. with a 9.4 household rating/18 share,
ahead of WAGA’s 3.2/6. (Fox O&O WAGA
put up a 5.3/9 at 10 p.m.) WSB had an estimated
$138.1 million in revenue in 2012, according to
BIA/Kelsey, trailed by WAGA’s $107.3 million.

Gannett owns NBC outlet WXIA and
MyNetworkTV station WATL. Meredith owns
CBS affiliate WGCL and has a management
agreement with Time Warner’s “Peachtree
TV.” CW affiliate WUPA is part of CBS, while
Univision has WUVG, whose 11 p.m. news
marked its two-year anniversary in April with
a new dual anchor format. WUVG also airs the
Sunday public affairs show Nuestra Georgia.

Comcast is Atlanta’s main subscription TV
operator, while AT&T’s U-verse is growing.

WSB’s rivals are trying novel things to grow
share. WUPA, which adds syndicated new
shows from Queen Latifah and Arsenio Hall this
fall, has the “CW Crew,” a band of grassroots
marketers promoting the station at community
events. Walsh and his brain trust are kicking
around the possibility of a local sports show.

Fabacher admits he has some challenges at
WGCL; one Atlanta TV insider calls the station
a “revolving door.” WGCL started going
live at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, the same day it
renamed its morning news CBS Atlanta News
instead of Better Mornings Atlanta, though
the 9 a.m. show has retained the Better branding.
“We wanted to be more consistent with
our evening news [brand],” says Fabacher.

WAGA has 210,000 Facebook fans, well
ahead of WXIA’s 188,000 and tops in Atlanta
TV. “Our viewers are very vocal on there,
speaking freely on the various topics of the
day,” says Bill Schneider, WAGA VP and general
manager. “It’s a great way for us to sense
what’s going on in the marketplace.”

The television business is flat as Atlanta
continues to recover from its economic doldrums,
though the automotive, telecommunications
and restaurant segments are improving.
“Nothing jumps out that suddenly sets
the market on fire,” says Schneider.

WSB will hope to continue doing just that.
“We don’t waste time sitting around admiring
ourselves,” says McVay. “We just practice
doing superior journalism every day.”