WNEP in Charge

In Wilkes-Barre–Scranton, a clear leader

Why This Matters

Local TV Still Thrives

Local TV Still Thrives

In Wilkes-Barre–Scranton, Pa., market leader WNEP practices an endangered craft: locally produced programming.

The station produces two shows in-house: Pennsylvania Outdoor Life and Home & Backyard. Both air several times on the weekends, including in prime access. Pennsylvania Outdoor Life, which has been on-air for 20 years, can deliver as high as a 6 rating in the adults 25-54 demographic.

WNEP also holds annual community fairs tied to each show, with demonstrations and competitions. The Pennsylvania Outdoor Life expo has drawn up to 200,000 people.

WNEP is also experimenting with news in unexpected dayparts. Two years ago, when Hollywood Squares ended its run, the station needed a 7 p.m. program. Rather than adding an unproven syndicated show, WNEP started the market’s only 7 p.m. newscast. WBRE’s 7 p.m. show, Wheel of Fortune, grabs higher ratings, but WNEP President/GM C. Lou Kirchen says the newscast holds its own with around a 7 household rating—and it is improving.

“What makes us No. 1 is having what’s important to people,” says Kirchen. “It is about news and tourism, hunting and the outdoors.”


Local TV Still Thrives

In a fragmented TV environment, one local station grabbing 40% of its market’s viewers for a newscast is almost unimaginable. But in Wilkes-Barre–Scranton, Pa., WNEP does just that.

Since the 1970s, the ABC affiliate, known for a folksy brand of news, has been top rated. Its 6 p.m. news often grabs a 40 share, nearly double its two competitors’—and among the highest Nielsen marks in the top 75 markets. WNEP, owned by The New York Times Co., also has the market’s only helicopter and live Doppler weather radar.

Even for WNEP, though, the area is challenging. The market saw $62.2 million in gross revenue last year, up from $56.8 million in 2004, according to BIA Financial. WNEP led the pack with $23 million, almost as much as competitors WYOU (the CBS affiliate) and Fox station WOLF combined. But the region grossly underperforms for its market size. The 53rd-largest TV market, Wilkes-Barre–Scranton ranks only 73rd in revenue.

Some market observers say WNEP historically kept its spot prices disproportionately low vis-à-vis its ratings, opting instead to sell a higher volume of ads at cheaper prices. That, in turn, say market executives, suppressed rates for rivals. But WNEP President/GM C. Lou Kirchen says her station’s selling strategy has shifted: “We are working hard to sell the tremendous value of our product.”

The economy is sluggish, and “this is not an affluent market,” says Phil Condron, president of Condron & Co., a local ad agency. “There are few corporate headquarters in northeast Pennsylvania, and the median age is older.” In 2005, a non-election year, revenue is projected by BIA to be off 4%.

Faced with a tough times, broadcasters have found efficiencies. Nexstar’s NBC affiliate WBRE runs a “virtual duopoly” with WYOU, owned by Mission Broadcasting. WBRE is the No. 2 station and boasts marquee syndicated shows, including Oprah, Dr. Phil and Jeopardy!. The stations share sales and news operations and simulcast the same morning and noon newscasts.

WNEP’s news gets extra exposure, too. The station produces WOLF’s 10 p.m. news, with WNEP talent.

Mystic Television recently bought WB affiliate WSWB. There is no UPN station in the market. Service Electric and Adelphia are the major cable operators.

Hyphenated markets can be tricky. To establish a niche in news, WBRE positions itself as the Wilkes-Barre outlet, while WYOU focuses more on the Scranton area. But WNEP seems to appeal to everyone. Says Scranton Times-Tribune TV writer Rich Mates, “They are the regional station and regarded as family.”

The Demos
*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.
Source: Scarborough Release 2004 75 Markets Report
WhoShare of populationIndex*
Hispanic origin2%18