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Pirate Pride

New players heat up Greenville race 7/18/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

WNCT has the ratings crown in Greenville-New Bern-Washington, N.C., but its rivals are revamping in an effort to dethrone the Media General power. WITN VP/General Manager Chris Mossman has overseen substantial changes at the Gray station since jumping from WCTV Tallahassee a year ago, including a complete remodeling of the set, new graphics and a thorough rethinking of its Web strategy.

“We blew up the Website,” says Mossman, mentioning round-the-clock content and greater interactivity. “Our traffic is triple what it was last June.”

A CBS affiliate, WNCT won late news in May, its 7.8 household rating/24 share topping WITN's 5.3/16.5. Evening news was closer, with WNCT beating NBC outlet WITN and ABC affiliate WCTI by about a point at 6. WCTI, which Bonten Media Group bought from Newport Broadcasting late in 2006, took morning news over WITN. (Bonten last week announced plans to acquire WTVF Nashville from Landmark Communications.)

The Greenville DMA covers some 15 counties. Agriculture is a major industry; tobacco output is not what it once was, but is still a prime resource. East Carolina University—and its substantial medical community—is a major source of employment and civic pride; its Division I sports teams are known as the Pirates.

Station executives insist the local economy is holding up well. A battle for telecom subscribers between US Cellular, SunCom and Alltel has been a boon for stations, though TV revenue appears to be lagging. The No. 105 Nielsen DMA came in at a distant No. 121 in terms of revenue, says BIA Financial.

WNCT led the revenue race in 2007, booking $10.8 million, per BIA. That bested WITN's $8.65 million, WCTI's $7.5 million, and the $4.4 million earned by WFXI, Esteem's Fox outlet. Suddenlink and Time Warner are the major cable providers.

Some relatively new faces in the market intend to stir things up. WNCT News Director Adam Henning has been tweaking the station's news content since coming on board last fall. “We're concentrating on making it a more accurate reflection of the community, not just crime-murder-mayhem,” he says. “We try to showcase the good and bad, and apparently that resonates with viewers.”

The WNCT brain trust is considering more newscasts, and launched a 10 p.m. news in January on its CW station, which airs on a digital channel.

January also marked the start of an operating agreement between WCTI and WFXI. The Fox employees are moving into a joint facility in New Bern, which is expected to be completed by the end of July. WFXI unveiled a 30-minute primetime newscast in February, and extended it to an hour in March. WCTI VP/General Manager Don Fisher says the owner is keen on news. “[Former Emmis exec] Randy Bongarten has had a lot of success with news,” Fisher says. “We'll look at some time periods—I think there's room to expand, maybe in September.”

WITN, meanwhile, wants to cover more of the broad DMA; Mossman mentions bureaus in New Bern and Jacksonville, home of Camp Lejeune. While station staffers can only be in so many places, he hopes the user-generated content platform Carolina Camera will fill in the blanks. He says: “I strongly believe we cover the DMA better than anyone else.”

Next: Salt Lake City, UT

 

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