Market Eye: Carolinas Turf Tussle

It’s win your backyard and poach your neighbor’s viewers in otherwise genteel Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson

There are hyphenated markets, there are double-hyphenated markets and then there’s the very rare tri-hyphenated market comprising four submarkets. That’s the case in DMA No. 37, where the traditional Big Three affiliate stations each win their backyard and attempt to poach viewers from the rivals’ turf. One of just two triple-hyphenated markets in the Top 50, Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson covers parts of northern South Carolina, western North Carolina and even northeastern Georgia.

“It’s a very broad DMA,” says John Soapes, president and general manager of WYFF, who grew up in Charleston.

Media General’s WSPA is licensed to Spartanburg, Hearst TV’s WYFF is Greenville-based, and Sinclair’s WLOS is up in Asheville, among the Blue Ridge Mountains. “We are the dominant station in the North Carolina part of the market,” says Jack Connors, WLOS-WMYA GM.

0901_MarketEye_Chart.jpgThe biggest battle is in the so-called Upstate, between CBS affiliate WSPA and NBC-aligned WYFF. BIA/Kelsey gave the 2014 revenue title to WSPA, but market watchers say WYFF has real momentum. Soapes cites the tenure of his news crew for the surge. “We have good legacy talent that continues to do extremely well,” he says.

WYFF bears the brand “Live. Local. Breaking News.” Soapes credits Hearst TV for spending to make the station a winner; the parent has pumped in a “ton” of cash on personnel, technology and WYFF’s digital strategy, he says. “If you don’t win in the digital space,” he adds, “you don’t win.”

Soapes also cites NBC for its vitalized primetime, including ratings-grabbing special events and live sports, such as Sunday-night football and NASCAR.

WSPA is pushing its live streamed newscasts and has a new news VP in Kirk Varner, who last worked at WKRC Cincinnati. “Career update: I’m returning to my home state of SC as VP News, WSPA/WYCW, the CBS/CW stations in Greenville/Spartanburg/Asheville on 8/31,” Varner tweeted.

Media General owns CW affiliate WYCW. Meredith owns Fox affiliate WHNS. Sinclair has a virtual duopoly through MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYA; closely aligned Cunningham Broadcasting owns that station and Sinclair operates it. The stations air syndicated blue chippers Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Dr. Phil.

WMYA is much more than a MyNet station—it’s a local football haven as well. The eighth season of WMYA’s high school football series kicked off in August; the station produces North Carolina games on Thursday nights and South Carolina tilts on Fridays. “We continue to expand our efforts regarding locally produced sports,” says Connors.

The games are broadcast in HD and average around 14,000 households, equal or better to typical MyNet primetime performance, Connors adds.

Charter is the market’s primary subscription TV operator, but Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson has one of the lowest cable penetration rates in the nation due to the mountain ranges in the region. “We are in the Appalachian Mountains, the Smoky Mountains,” says Connors. “A lot of the areas, cable just can’t get to, or does not want to get to.”

Station execs say the local economy is going strong. What was for a long time a textile manufacturing market now builds automobiles and auto accessories; BMW and Michelin are major employers and sources of pride. Both outfits continue to hire. “Local business is strong, it’s solid,” says Connors.

The restaurant scene is a lively one, and Asheville has won the “Beer City USA” distinction multiple times. So active is the craft beer scene that a local college offers a two-year associate of applied science degree in brewing, distillation and fermentation. The breweries, including Highland, Green Man and local operations for national brewers such as Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues, “provide a lot of jobs here,” says Connors.

The market veterans mention those entertainment options, natural beauty and favorable weather as key characteristics that make DMA No. 37 special. “It’s a big market, but a small town,” says Soapes. “Everybody knows everybody.”

The market is nearly 78% white, 14% African-American and 6% Hispanic. Soapes says residents tend to look out for one another. “It’s one of the most charitable places I’ve ever been in,” he says. “It’s very giving.”

HORROR IN VA. HITS HOME

It’s a four-hour drive from Spartanburg. S.C., to Roanoke, Va., close enough that the murders of two local TV journalists Aug. 26 truly hit home for broadcasters in the Carolinas market. Just after word of the tragedy hit the WYFF newsroom, president/GM John Soapes called a staff meeting to remind his charges that safety is priority No. 1 and to come to him with any concerns or questions. Soapes also turned up at the morning and afternoon editorial meetings. “I made myself very visible for the next 24-48 hours,” says Soapes, who hoped that would encourage more people to address him if they were uneasy.

Many local TV vets have said they could easily identify with the deceased, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, based on colleagues in their own workplaces. “The story they were doing—that’s a story every one of us does with some frequency,” said Jack Connors, WLOS-WMYA GM.

The news crews in Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville went about their business with heavy hearts and a watchful eye. “It’s another reminder to be aware of your surroundings when you’re out on the street,” says Soapes.