Brave New World - Broadcasting & Cable

Brave New World

A new battle rages for local news primacy
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Atlanta just keeps on growing, and that's mostly a good thing. More and more corporations are joining Coca Cola, Turner Broadcasting and UPS by moving their headquarters to the market, including those from the insurance and logistics (distribution, shipping and trucking) categories.

Station executives say the DMA has moved from Nielsen's No. 16 to No. 9 slot since the late '70s, and Atlanta—home of the NFL's Falcons, MLB's Braves and NBA's Hawks—is poised to leapfrog Washington D.C., in the near future.

But being a boomtown has its downside too. The traffic across Atlanta's infamous sprawl is nothing short of legendary, and population growth—much of it New Orleans émigrés in the wake of Hurricane Katrina—has strained schools, law enforcement and infrastructure, such as the city's archaic sewer system.

Several strong operators run stations in Atlanta, which has been a Local People Meter market since last summer. News primacy—once the exclusive dominion of Cox's ABC affiliate WSB—is a contest once again. “The biggest thing here is how different the news race looks at 11 p.m.,” says Andy Alford, VP/general manager at Meredith's CBS affiliate WGCL. “WSB was dominant for years, but now everyone's within a few points in the key demos.”

The market grossed $535.7 million last year, up from $510.4 million the year before, according to BIA Financial. WSB led with $142.05 million, ahead of Fox O&O WAGA ($107.8 million) and Gannett's WXIA ($94.2 million). Gannett also owns the MyNetworkTV outlet WATL, and CBS Corp. owns the CW affiliate WUPA. Other players are Time Warner's WTBS and Meredith's CBS outlet WGCL.

WSB benefits from having Cox headquarters right there in Atlanta; the parent's proximity reinforces the station's hyper-local theme. “We focus on local above and beyond all else,” says Director of Creative Services Steve Riley. “The way that we move on breaking news sets us apart from the others.”

Offering high-definition news for a year now, WSB is finding success in local programs, such as Georgia's Hidden Treasures, where anchor John Pruitt shares intriguing landmarks within driving distance. Airing at 8 p.m.,the special did a strong 5.9 in adults 25-54 on a recent Monday.

Station executives say there's exceptionally robust news product in Atlanta, with traffic and weather the major drivers. WAGA cranks out a full 43½ hours of news a week. Its 10 p.m. show has won late news in the last three books, says VP/General Manager Gene McHugh, and Good Day Atlanta often outrates Today on NBC. McHugh says the morning show reflects the community: “It's a little slower paced than some bigger markets,” he says, relying more on area people of interest than boldface names promoting their films and records.

WGCL, which captured just 7.5% of the 2006 market revenue, according to BIA, is also focusing on the A.M. daypart with new program Better Mornings. And with residents getting up earlier to face those daunting commutes, the station has a novel concept for reaching out to viewers before they call it a night.

The 11 p.m. news starts with the cumbersome but no less effective slogan “Tonight's Top Stories and Tomorrow's Forecast in the First Five Minutes.”

“People are going to bed so early,” says Alford. “This gets them to stay up those extra five minutes.”

Next: Charleston-Huntington, WV

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