Market Eye: Return of the Kings

LeBron is back, and several new GMs now call Cleveland home as well

If you're curious about what’s new in Cleveland-Akron, look no further than the slate of station general managers. The Big Four have all had GM changes in the past year-plus, an extraordinary amount of turnover in the top spots. A positive spirit of competition existed among the previous station leaders, and Micki Byrnes, new GM at WKYC, was hoping for similar goodwill with the newbies. She suggested a meeting of the minds this past spring at the Cleveland Food Bank, whose Harvest for Hunger all the stations pitch in with, and the new arrivals got to put faces with names.

“We’re all here to serve the community,” says Byrnes, who took over at Gannett-owned NBC affiliate WKYC at the start of the year, succeeding the retired Brooke Spectorsky.

The general managers were hardly the biggest arrival in Cleveland, with Akron native LeBron James famously rejoining the NBA’s Cavaliers last season and taking the team to the NBA Finals. Perhaps more than any single athlete and city, fortunes rise and fall in Cleveland on James’ supernatural skills. The “LeBron Effect,” as it is known locally, is both economic and emotional. “People have a sense of hope,” says Byrnes. “People feel revalidated since he came home.”

0702_MarketEye_Chart.jpgThe new general managers are putting their stamp on their stations. Dominic Mancuso, who arrived from Sinclair’s Nashville stations in May 2014, is overseeing a massive brand pivot for WOIO. The CBS affiliate had long employed a tabloidy approach to news, a staple under previous GM Bill Applegate. “We really want to move away from that,” says Mancuso. “We have very strong assets in the building, and we’re getting away from some of the excess.”

WOIO parent Raycom also owns local MyNetworkTV affiliate WUAB, which this fall will shift its primetime to an 11 p.m. start and move its 10 p.m. local news to 9.

Steve Weinstein, former general manager of Scripps-owned KERO Bakersfield (Calif.), slid into the top spot at the company’s WEWS in January and has made morning news top priority. The broadcast has a trio of new anchors and a new executive producer. “We’ve really put a lot of time, effort and energy into that newscast,” says Weinstein, citing the significance of the morning news battle.

While ABC’s sports programming has largely shifted to sister ESPN, ABC affiliate WEWS stocks up on sports. Weinstein says the NBA Finals were massive, with some household shares cracking the 80 mark as LeBron, known as King James, and his mates did battle with the Golden State Warriors. “We were very, very strong in adults,” Weinstein says. “That generated a great amount of revenue.”

WEWS has also signed on with the Cleveland Browns for three preseason games and ancillary programming.

“That’s huge for us,” says Weinstein.

Tribune owns Fox affiliate WJW. Winston Broadcasting holds one of the rare CW standalones in WBNX. Winston is part of Grace Cathedral Inc.; the station airs religious programming on its dot-two and has the Movies! network on its dot-three, securing carriage with dominant local subscription operator Time Warner Cable. Eddie Brown, general manager, says WBNX would like to get in on the news game, perhaps partnering with one of its rival stations. “We’re investigating our options,” she says.

Paul Perozeni was promoted from general sales manager to WJW general manager in June 2014; he did not return calls for comment at presstime. WJW, which conducted a 4K ultra-HD field test earlier this month, remains a monster. It took the total-day household and adults 25-54 races in the May sweeps, crushed the competition in mornings and won the early evening races. WJW posted a 5.1 household rating/8 share at 10 p.m., and a 2.1/5 in adults 25-54. WEWS narrowly won 11 p.m. with a 4.5/8 ahead of WKYC’s 4.4/8, while WKYC was ahead by a hair in the demo. WEWS was the primetime champ.

The new GM arrivals have hit DMA No. 19 at a favorable time. James this month renewed his Cavs contract for two more years. Cleveland hosts the Republican National Convention next year. Building is going on downtown. “It’s a different place than it was five years ago,” says Byrnes. “There’s a real sense of optimism.”

RETURN ENGAGEMENTS

Dominic Mancuso, WOIO-WUAB VP/general manager, and his fellow GMs aren’t the only new faces in town. Fred D’Ambrosi came on in March as WOIO news director. He most recently ran the newsroom at WUSA Washington and was a producer at Cleveland’s WKYC in the mid-1980s.

Micki Byrnes has considerable time in the market. She was VP and station manager at WKYC prior to her GM promotion. Mancuso and Steve Weinstein, GM at WEWS, shifted closer to their hometowns with their moves to Cleveland. “It’s nice to have weather again,” says Weinstein, a Baltimore native who had been in Bakersfield, Calif. “It’s nice to have it not be 110 degrees for four months.”

“I’m happy to be back in the Midwest,” Chicago native Mancuso says. “Cleveland is a diverse city with a lot of interesting things going on.”

There are a lot of interesting things going on at the Raycom stations too. Besides shifting MyNetworkTV primetime to 11 p.m.-1 a.m., WUAB is consolidating its court shows in the afternoon and moving conflict talkers to mornings. Mancuso has not decided what will fill the 8-9 p.m. slot but says it will be syndicated product that is already on the station’s air.