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Mo' Competition

Auto is ailing, but news biz thrives in Detroit 1/11/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

“Start spreadin' the news” may call to mind the Big Apple, but the lyric also applies to Motown. Several Detroit stations are expanding news content, including those that don't even produce newscasts: CBS-owned WWJ introduced the First Forecast mini weather report Jan. 7, while Granite's WMYD added the YouNews platform to its Website in September, with an eye toward working the user video into its programming.

“Our goal is to take some of that product and do something more longform,” says WMYD General Manager Sarah Norat-Phillips. “We like the concept of the citizen reporter.”

It's a pitched revenue race in Detroit. Washington Post's NBC affiliate WDIV used to hold a big lead, but E.W. Scripps's ABC outlet WXYZ is making serious inroads of late. WXYZ had a huge November sweeps, winning total day ratings, primetime and evening news, and just squeaking by WDIV in late news, its 10.6 household rating/19 share nipping WDIV's 10.1/18.

WXYZ general manager Grace Gilchrist retired at the close of 2007, with Scripps veteran Bob Sliva stepping in. He's focusing on keeping the newscasts on top, seeking out new business development (such as the home-improvement section on wxyz.com) and making the station a bigger presence at community events.

“It brings good will to the marketplace,” Sliva says, “and can also provide the opportunity to generate a little revenue.”

Detroit took in $364 million in 2007, per BIA Financial. WDIV led with $102.5 million in 2006, while WXYZ booked $100.7 million. WDIV VP/General Manager Steve Wasserman, who's leaving the station this month, credits its success to seasoned reporters covering weather and business, and a veteran anchor crew. “We've got the most-established, best-liked on-air personalities,” he says, mentioning anchor Carmen Harlan's 30th anniversary at WDIV.

Other market players include Fox O&O WJBK, CBS-owned CW outlet WKBD, and independent WADL, which shows a range of African-American programming such as gospel and Good Times [Station to Station, Oct. 15].

Unfortunately, the local economy isn't having good times at all. The city is working to diversify its industries, but Detroit will long remain an auto town, and that business is slumping badly. The mortgage crisis has resulted in an inordinate number of home foreclosures in the No. 11 Nielsen DMA (it's among the worst-hit markets in the country), though stations have seen upticks in retail, fast food and political spending.

The state of Michigan moved its primary up to Jan. 15, offering ample material for all those newscasts. WXYZ will offer a mix of local news and retro programming when it launches Retro Television Network on a digital channel early this year, and WDIV added the market's only 4 p.m. news last January.

But no station has added more news than WJBK, which introduced an 11 p.m. program on the heels of its 10 p.m. newscast in September. JBK will also expand its Sunday 6:30 p.m. news to an hour later this month, taking the station to 59½ hours of news a week. “That's almost double what the others here are doing,” says homegrown VP/General Manager Jeff Murri. “We are totally committed to local news.”

WWJ may not roll out a full newscast anytime soon, but VP/General Manager Trey Fabacher says First Forecast, which runs for about 2½ minutes each night at 11, boosts the station's local presence: “We continue to talk about ways to better serve the public.”

Next: Raleigh-Durham, N.C.

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