Breaking New Ground

Stations invest in high-tech facilities
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Nestled between New York and Boston, stations in the Hartford-New Haven, Conn., DMA benefit from their proximity to major-market operations. That can mean scrutinizing how the city slickers fill their digital channels, how they innovate on the Web, and how they market their creations. “We have the luxury of seeing how New York and Boston do their news and how they promote themselves,” says WFSB VP/General Manager Klarn DePalma.

WFSB is looking more like a big-city station every day. Meredith's CBS affiliate essentially ran the table in February sweeps—winning total day, primetime, and morning, evening and late news—and is off to a strong start in the May book as well. As it prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary in September, the station will move into a new 70,000-square-foot facility in July.

However, the Hartford-New Haven economy is somewhat stagnant. The acquisition of regional department store Filene's by Macy's diverted advertising dollars to the national networks, while automotive continues to sputter. Still, the No. 28 Nielsen market ranked 26th in revenue, according to BIA Financial. Connecticut's casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, spend well on advertising and provide loads of jobs, and a massive Cabela's outdoor-sports store is set to open in East Hartford. Retail and telecommunications are strong categories, while the arrival of AT&T's U-verse TV service should spur a marketing race with cable operators Comcast, Cox and Charter.

Hartford-New Haven grabbed $213 million in 2006, according to BIA. WFSB led the pack with $57 million, ahead of NBC-owned WVIT ($56 million) and LIN's ABC affiliate WTNH ($46.8 million). Also in the hunt are Tribune's duopoly, Fox affiliate WTIC and CW affiliate WTXX, and LIN's MyNetworkTV (MNT) outlet WCTX.

The stations are hustling to catch up with WFSB. WVIT is also doing some relocating; it breaks ground this summer on a “smart-station” facility in West Hartford, which will enable the station to repurpose TV content for a digital channel or the Web without additional prep. “[NBC Stations President] Jay Ireland said, 'I want to see the TV station of the future,'” says President/General Manager David Doebler. “It's what every station should and will be doing.”

WTNH was runner-up in total-day ratings and late news in February. Last month, the ABC station launched SkyMax Weather on its digital channel and is generating significant hits online through a three-minute news loop it produces five times a day. Although VP/General Manager Jon Hitchcock classifies sister MNT station as a disappointment, there are reasons to be optimistic: Its 10 p.m. news “does gangbusters,” and he also expects strong viewership for TMZ, the syndicated magazine show launching in the fall.

The Tribune stations, meanwhile, have suffered from the company's well-publicized efforts to offload the broadcast group. WTIC/WTXX VP/General Manager Richard Graziano admits they're a step or two behind in the Web wars but expects new owner Sam Zell to be good for business. “He plays to win,” says Graziano, whose stations add Two and a Half Men and Family Guy come fall.

But it's WFSB's crown to lose. Much of the success comes from local expertise: The anchor team of Al Terzi and Denise D'Ascenzo has a combined 34 years in the market, and DePalma is as local as famed Pepe's Pizza in New Haven. Says DePalma, who was born in East Haven, went to college and grad school in Connecticut, and has worked only at WFSB: “I hope I never leave.”

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