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The Sunshine Market

Growth and diversity bolster Florida stations 1/12/2007 07:00:00 PM Eastern

The forecast is sunny indeed for broadcasters in Florida's Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota. With a growing population, a wide variety of stations and a generally heated political climate, business is good in the 12th-largest Nielsen market.

According to BIA Financial, the market generated an estimated $370 million in gross revenues last year, up from $336 million in 2005.

“There is good reason for optimism,” says Bill Carey, VP/general manager of ABC affiliate WFTS. With available ad dollars growing every year, he says, “you spend a fair amount of your time trying to plot and strategize how to take advantage of being in a growth market.”

Tampa's population is not only growing—by more than 2.2%, to 4,020,100, since 2000—but diverse, with a Hispanic contingent that makes up 11.8% of TV households. The station makeup is diverse as well, with three Spanish-language stations and an independent.

Although politics has been a reliable advertising category for the past decade, last year's gubernatorial and Senate races were curious, with the majority of political-ad spending breaking later than expected. “The bulk of political dollars was booked well into the month of October, right up until Election Day,” says Carey. “In years past, a more traditional booking from Labor Day forward has been the norm.” Moreover, neither race proved to be as tight as expected, resulting in less spending than forecast.

As elsewhere in Florida, weather is a big draw and a point of serious competition in the Tampa market. To keep ahead, Fox-owned WTVT proudly switched on a new million-watt Doppler radar in May, declaring it the most powerful in the country and making it the star attraction for the station's revamped Website.

In news, WTVT is in a constant ratings battle with Media General's NBC affiliate WFLA. The two are neck-and-neck in revenue, according to BIA, each generating some 24% of the market's total. Last year, WTVT introduced News Edge, a half-hour program at 11 p.m., with a “single-anchor, high-energy, graphically intense” format. The new show is up in the time period by more than 40% over last year, when the station ran M*A*S*H.

Tampa also has two ABC affiliates, WFTS Tampa and WWSB Sarasota (most cable subscribers get one or the other), the result of numerous affiliation swaps that shook the market in 1994.

In September, Scripps Howard's WFTS will finally cash in on one of those deals by picking up Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune from Gannett's CBS affiliate WTSP, once the market's ABC outlet.

Beyond the addition of those syndicated powerhouses, however, WFTS has little plans for change in the next year.

“We're very pleased with ABC's primetime success,” says Carey. “We're anxious to see how Lost at 10 p.m. works in February.” And the protracted bickering between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell playing out on The View (see Syndication, p. 21) has been good for the station: The show is up more than 70% from last year and regularly trounces the competition.

Another syndication shakeup in the market is set for later this month when WTVT will follow the network's lead and start running the new strip The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet. The station has high hopes for the show.

Indeed, the station scored a rare syndication coup in November, according to General Manager Robert Linger: Among women, Judge Judy actually beat The Oprah Winfrey Show.

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