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WTHR Laps Competition

Dispatch station takes checkered flag in sweeps 3/14/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

The February sweeps wasn't just successful for WTHR—it was nothing short of “historic,” says VP/General Manager Jim Tellus. The NBC affiliate has long ruled the ratings game in Indianapolis, but February marked the first time it pulled off a clean sweep in the newscast races. Tellus credits parent Dispatch Broadcast Group for providing “tremendous” resources, whether it's for blue-chip syndicated fare like Oprah Winfrey and Jeopardy! or the news.

“Dispatch treats it more like a top 10 market than a top 25 market,” says Tellus, formerly the station's news director. “I have a bigger news budget now than I had [at a previous job] in Seattle. It makes a big difference to be owned by a family-owned company that's not leveraged.”

Indianapolis, in fact, has multiple stations that punch above their weight. Local outlets pride themselves on sanguine investigative reporting, and both WTHR and WISH grabbed Peabody Awards in 2006—making Indianapolis the smallest market to claim multiple Peabodys in the same year.

Station managers say the Indianapolis economy is fairly flat. But thanks to a diverse business portfolio—major industries including trucking, health care and technology—they believe they're in much better shape than their neighbors. “There's not a lot of growth or erosion, but it's not a Rust Belt market,” says WTTV/WXIN VP/General Manager Jerry Martin. “We're a lot better off than most Midwestern markets.”

The DMA grabbed $190.3 million in 2007. WTHR took the lion's share of the 2006 revenue with $61.375 million, according to BIA Financial, ahead of LIN's CBS outlet WISH, with $44.925 million, and McGraw-Hill's ABC affiliate WRTV ($30.4 million). LIN also owns the local MyNetworkTV and Univision outlets, and Tribune holds the Fox-CW duopoly; Fox affiliate WXIN won primetime in February by a mile.

Indy is sports-mad: Basketball is king, and motor sports are huge as well. The Indianapolis Colts took the Super Bowl title in 2007 but were stunned in the divisional playoffs earlier this year; still, WXIN scored the second-highest Super Bowl rating in the country, says Martin, just behind Boston.

WTHR took late news with a 9.4 rating/19 share, but the competition is coming up with unique ways to chip away at its eminence. CW outlet WTTV has seen a ratings boom since simulcasting sister WXIN's morning news, which has propelled the station's daytime court block. Seeing that people were commuting longer distances, WRTV general manager Don Lundy kicked off a 7 p.m. news in September and brought in new talent—and says he's “blown away by the results,” compared to when The Insider ran at 7.

WISH is innovating online. It recently debuted the user-generated video site IndyTube.TV as well as Indianapolitics.TV; the former got a primetime “Best of” special on sister station WNDY March 15, and the latter will see a big boost in traffic as the May 6 primaries draw near. “We've got a lot of neat things on the Web,” says President/General Manager Jeff White, who also mentions an e-mail/text message application for school closings. “We're taking advantage of some of the technology that's available.”

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