Boom After the Storm

A Gulf Coast market enjoys a post-Katrina bounce
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After emerging damaged but relatively intact in the wake of 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the Mobile, Ala.-Pensacola, Fla., market has prospered. Thanks to stable advertising and a post-hurricane influx of business, it surpassed Tulsa Okla., and Richmond-Petersburg, Va., this year to become the No. 59 Nielsen market.

“A hurricane can be a horrendously devastating thing,” says Joe Golenowski, VP/general manager of CBS affiliate WKRG. “But I think that, for anyone who has gotten through a situation where there is a lot of devastation, there is a rebound effect.

“Mobile is a major staging area for all the recovery efforts for our neighbors to the west,” he adds, “so we've had a good economic rebound.”

In the past year, some of New Orleans' shipping industry has relocated to Mobile, where Alabama's largest office building is nearing completion. And the military presence there has increased, which perhaps accounts for the stability of automotive advertising, a category that has suffered in many other markets.

Thanks to a strong economy combined with substantial political advertising, 2006 has turned out to be a “healthy, excellent year,” says Carl Leahy, general manager of ABC affiliate WEAR.

BIA Financial estimates gross revenues of $85.8 million in 2006 in the market, up from $79.4 million in 2005.

“It's a bright picture down here,” agrees Matt Pumo, VP/general manager of Fox affiliate WALA.

The market stretches some 60 miles over Florida and Alabama and includes the fast-growing suburbs of Baldwin County, Ala. Although all of the local stations cover the entire area, only Sinclair Broadcast Group's WEAR is licensed in and works out of Florida. (Sinclair also owns MyNetworkTV affiliate WFGX.)

Although as many as 15 stations broadcast in the area, a diary market, the Big Four affiliates account for more than 90% of the revenue. WEAR and Media General's CBS affiliate WKRG are the top two in revenue, with WALA beating out Clear Channel's NBC affiliate WPMI for the No. 3 slot.

“We're not your typical Fox station,” says WALA's Pumo. After switching from NBC in 1996, the station walked away with four of the top five syndicated shows: Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil. Previously owned by Emmis Communications, it was sold, along with CW affiliate WBPG, to LIN Television in a five-station, $260-million deal last year.

In May, the latest sweeps period for which reliable ratings are available, WALA won sign-on to sign-off without even competing in the late-news category; it runs its news at 9 p.m., an hour before the competition.

Meanwhile, WKRG won the early-morning and late-night news competitions in May.

Despite the influx of money, local broadcasters have invested little in their digital products, only recently focusing their attention on revamping their Websites. Although WKRG runs a Doppler radar on one of its subchannels and WEAR runs music-video channel The Tube, most appear uninterested in developing their digital stations; however WPMI has opted to run NBC's Weather Plus service.

WALA, however, has shifted gears on the Web. In the past five months, the station has joined with new-media consulting firm WorldNow.com and completely revamped its Website.

“Under WALA's previous ownership group, the Web was something that was not an emphasis. With LIN, it is,” says Pumo. “That's something that, for us, has changed 180 degrees.”

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