New Sets, Brands and Leaders in Connecticut

Hartford/New Haven stations focus on investigations, ‘Google-proofing,’ connecting with viewers

MARKET EYE

HARTFORD-NEW HAVEN, CONN.

LOWDOWN: Hartford-New Haven is a rare, truly bifurcated market, divided between the counties. For instance, WTNH, located in downtown New Haven, dominates the ratings for New Haven County.

STATIONS (OWNER/AFFILIATION): WFSB Hartford (Meredith/CBS); WVIT New Britain (NBC/NBC); WTNH New Haven (Media General/ABC); WTIC Hartford (Tribune/Fox).

OWNER/AFFILIATION CHANGES: If the proposed Media General-Meredith Corp. merger goes through, the new company would have to sell either Meredith’s WFSB or Media General’s WTNH to comply with FCC rules. While the situation is out of the two stations’ hands, that doesn’t mean they are not aware of the rumors and speculation. It can be a distraction, says Mark Higgins, WTNH VP and general manager, and it’s his duty to keep his staff focused on the task at hand. “We’ve got to continue to show we’re running a strong business,” he says.

WFSB HARTFORD
(MEREDITH/CBS)

INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONT LINES: “WFSB has never been stronger. The November book was the best we’ve had in a long time. We know how to cover the market very well,” says Klarn DePalma, senior VP and general manager.

WHAT’S NEW: WFSB completed a six-month overhaul of its main news studio last January. The new set and graphics and enhanced weather technology “cleaned the look” of the station, DePalma says. The station also launched a new weather app as well as a high school sports app. “We’re really looking at expanding that not just to television but content,” DePalma says of the latter app, which debuted in November. Finally, WFSB is planning to make a major investment in upgrading its Doppler radar, the only one in the state.

WHAT’S ON: The CBS affiliate airs Better Connecticut weekdays at 3 p.m., an hour-long locally produced lifestyle program. Hosted by the station’s morning meteorologist and afternoon anchor, Better Connecticut is starting its 10th year and consistently charts first or second in the time period.

WHO THEY ARE: WFSB makes a concerted effort to produce content that is on-brand, focused on the market and exclusive, as it tries to put out three to five stories in each newscast that viewers can only find at WFSB. “We’re a very focused brand,” DePalma says. “We know who we are.” In addition, for the last 12- 18 months, one of the station’s goals has been for its content to be “Google-proof,” he says. “We have to give them something different, a spin that they can’t find on the Internet.”

WVIT NEW BRITAIN
(NBC/NBC)

WHAT’S NEW: Susan Tully became president and general manager of WVIT in June. The station recently launched its NBC Connecticut app, which allows users the flexibility to toggle between news and weather (featuring live radar) as the home screen. WVIT is adding an hour-long 4 p.m. newscast in late May. The NBC O&O also debuted its weather jeep First Alert 1 in April. Equipped with mobile radar and live cameras, the vehicle can provide live reports and footage as it drives directly to a storm. “It’s not just a great weather tool, it’s a phenomenal marketing tool,” Tully says. “The community enjoys seeing it and learning about it.”

WHAT’S ON: The station regularly airs community- based programs as half-hour specials, with at least one each quarter, plus a weather special. WVIT was the media partner for the New Haven Christmas Tree lighting. “We try to find those community events to build a half-hour around,” Tully says.

WHO THEY ARE: The station puts a heavy focus on its investigative unit, the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, the state’s biggest team of broadcast investigative journalists. One significant recent story was on crumbling foundations. In July, the station aired a report on crumbling basement walls in eastern Connecticut, a problem that had been plaguing some homeowners for two decades. Over the following few months, the investigation continued to dig deeper with more than a dozen reports, tying the issues back to a single manufacturer, causing one community to hold a town hall and attracting the attention of their senator and governor, who asked the attorney general to help with the investigation.

DID YOU KNOW? WVIT will be an exclusive media partner of the Hartford Yard Goats, a Double-A minor league baseball team moving from New Britain to Hartford for the upcoming season. The station will have signage in the new Dunkin’ Donuts Park. “We’re excited to be on the ground floor and partner around something this exciting,” Tully says.

WTNH NEW HAVEN
(MEDIA GENERAL/ABC)

INSIGHTS FROM THE FRONT LINES: “[I’m most proud of] growing the business in a very tough environment, with the economy going sideways, maintaining our dominance in New Haven County and staying true to brand and form,” says Mark Higgins, VP/GM.

WHAT’S NEW: WTNH installed Keith Connors as news director in February. The station also debuted a new set in September.

WHAT’S ON: WTNH boasts CT Style, a local ifestyle show that allows advertisers a venue for long-form programming and messaging. The program, which launched in 2009, was expanded from 30 minutes to an hour in September. The station also has WXedge.com, a local weather microsite.

WHO THEY ARE: With its slogan “Who’s got your back?” WTNH embraces its brand of “fighting for the little guy, taking on those in power and taking on tough issues,” Higgins says. “The stories that we do are true to brand.” One such story was on homelessness among veterans. The series of follow-ups garnered attention from the governor’s office and in Washington, D.C.

0102_LocalTV_chart.jpgWTIC HARTFORD
(TRIBUNE/FOX)

WHAT’S NEW: Jon Hitchcock became VP and general manager in April.

WHAT’S ON: WTIC televised the annual Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving, “a great undertaking that uses every resource of the station,” Hitchcock says. In March, the station will televise St. Patrick’s Day parades in Hartford and New Haven.

KEY STAT: 9.5—the hours of news WTIC airs each weekday.

DID YOU KNOW? WTIC boasts the market’s only 4 a.m. newscast.

ODDS & ENDS: In the next few weeks, the station plans to announce a new community program to aid nonprofits.

SPOTLIGHT

LAST SUMMER, WTIC relaunched its brand as Fox 61, which had been the brand six years ago, before the Tribune station combined news operations with The Hartford Courant and switched to Fox Connecticut. But with Tribune having separated its publishing and broadcasting businesses in 2013, the Fox Connecticut brand was living in that publishing world. That presented a great branding opportunity to the station’s VP/general manager, Jon Hitchcock, who took over in April, and they turned back the clock to Fox 61. “It was going back to our roots, back to the future,” he says. “It has a unique emotional connection with people in the marketplace.” The station asked viewers over social media and out in the community which brand they prefer. One memorable response was from a man who said going with Fox 61 would be “like bringing back the Whalers,” Hartford’s former NHL team.

After the Fox 61 rebrand, it was time to give the newscast an identity. WTIC launched the slogan “expect more” in November. It was about carving a space for WTIC to showcase “authentic, emotional storytelling,” on, among other things, unsung heroes, or community struggles that are outside of other stations’ major focuses, such as investigative. The focus is on digging deeper to tell relatable stories on people, businesses and events in the community. “That’s where we felt we’d be able to differentiate ourselves and also deliver on something compelling and missing in the marketplace,” Hitchcock says.

There was no corporate edict when Hitchcock joined the station but rather the changes were implemented through the employees deciding what their identity should be and what their product should represent. There was a lot of groundwork to develop the mission statement and rally around that purpose, Hitchcock says. “It’s not always a revolutionary change. Sometimes it’s evolutionary in the way we approach things.”