Shoring Up the Market

Mobile-Pensacola area rebuilds after Ivan

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Networks Switch, But Not Viewers

Nine months after Hurricane Ivan battered the Alabama coast and Florida panhandle, the region is still cleaning up. The most ferocious storm since 1998 had mixed effects on the local economies in Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla., the No. 63 TV market. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and tourism took a hit. Recently, though, as area residents collect their aid money, demand for improvements—from roofing to furniture—is on the rise.

“The beach economy will suffer this summer, but there is a lot more activity in the market,” says Vanessa Oubre, VP/GM for Fox affiliate WALA.

TV stations got beat up by the hurricane, too. Ivan knocked all the TV stations off the air temporarily except Media General-owned CBS affiliate WKRG. Other Media General stations dispatched reinforcements—satellite trucks, helicopters and extra staffers—which helped WKRG stay on, says VP/GM Joe Goleniowski.

After the storm, advertisers curtailed spending—in favor of repairing their own businesses—but the situation is improving. “Now most of our regular customers are back up and running again,” Goleniowski says.

Local broadcasters in the market took in more than $82 million in gross revenue last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $74 million in 2003.

Even on a slow news day, the region is challenging to cover. The market reaches into two states. Mobile and Pensacola are about 60 miles apart; in between is Baldwin County, a fast-growing suburban area.

Of the four stations with local news, WALA, WKRG and NBC affiliate WPMI are Alabama-based and focus news more on the Yellowhammer State. All three use Baldwin County bureaus to cover Florida. Sinclair Broadcast’s ABC affiliate WEAR is located in Pensacola and caters more to Sunshine State viewers.

No one station dominates. In February sweeps, WKRG was top-rated in late news, while WEAR claimed the highest-rated early-evening newscast. Fox affiliate WALA ruled in total day. It runs late local news at 9 p.m.; the others have 10 p.m. newscasts.

With the start of the 2005 hurricane season approaching, June 30, stations are getting ready again. WPMI will share news with six Clear Channel radio stations. And, in July, the station will launch NBC’s 24/7 digital Weather Plus service. To keep everything running, WPMI bought an 820-gallon fuel tank that can power it for three days.

WKRG is refining its plans, but VP/GM Goleniowski hopes history works in the market’s favor. “They say you get a bad one like this every 25 years,” he says. “But we still worry, and we are prepared.”

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.
Sources: Nielsen Media Research, BIA Research
White 76% 92
Black 20% 167
Hispanic 4% 32
Asian 1% 35