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Still Revved Up

New newscasts take off in car-centric market 11/21/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

The stalling economy hasn't prevented stations in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville DMA from trotting out fresh local programming. WYFF added two hours to its weekend morning news in late August, WHNS took its first dip into evening news with a 6:30 program in the fall, and WSPA unveiled a 7 p.m. newscast in September, too. All seem pleased with the early returns.

“The proliferation of news in various dayparts has been for the benefit of consumers and suppliers,” says WYFF President/General Manager Michael J. Hayes. “I think everyone's a winner.”

Not to be outdone, WLOS premiered high-definition local news—and what General Manager Jack Connors calls “a gorgeous new large and expensive HD set”—on Sept. 17. “We stripped the studio to concrete blocks,” he said. “It's new everything.”

Local business was fairly robust in the first half of the year, but the forces dragging down much of the country have slowed things a bit. The automotive industry drives the local economy, but unlike Detroit, it hasn't put the market into a slump. A BMW production facility in Spartanburg cranked out 12,500 SUVs in October, Michelin North America is headquartered in Greenville, and the market is home to a vibrant auto aftermarket business. It's also home to the new $200 million Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research facility—known locally as ICAR. “It's in its infancy, but it's growing quickly,” says WSPA/WYCW VP/General Manager Phil Lane.

But with car sales hitting rough times, WHNS VP/General Manager Guy Hempel says discussions with local dealers have changed, as both sides contemplate new strategies and new dayparts. “They're looking for answers, and it's changed the way we sit down at the table,” he says.

Media General's CBS outlet WSPA had a monster May sweeps, winning total day household ratings and primetime, along with evening and late news. Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WYFF took mornings. Sinclair owns ABC affiliate WLOS and manages Cunningham's MyNetworkTV outlet WMYA. Meredith has Fox outlet WHNS. Media General also owns WYCW, the local CW outlet.

Stations are digging for new revenue streams. WLOS, quartered in Asheville, benefited from extraordinarily close gubernatorial and Senate races in North Carolina, and from the state being in play for the presidential candidates for the first time in decades. WMYA did well this fall with local Friday night football, called Upstate High School Game of the Week.

WYFF has gone “broader, deeper and richer” on the Web, Hayes says. WSPA airs morning show Your Carolina from a new downtown Greenville studio and recently expanded the program to an hour. “It's far exceeded expectations for ratings and revenue,” Lane says.

WHNS is also finding success in mornings, airing Meredith's syndicated program Better at 9, and playing up the brand on the Web with sections like the shopping-oriented “Better Deals.” Hempel says the show's model, which includes room for local inserts, makes it stand out. “Better is more than just the number it does,” he says. “It's a different opportunity to do [product] integration.”

There's been considerable stability in the market in terms of owners and managers. “It's a very solid market with solid broadcasters,” Hempel says. “It means you have to get up every morning ready to compete.”

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