Bright Horizon Ahead For Charlotte and Its Stations

General managers say they are in a good position as presidential campaign ad spending is about to heat up
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As the U.S. economy continues its rebound from the global crash years, one of the markets participating in the upswing is Charlotte, N.C.. The DMA is moving up the rankings to No. 22 from 24. Its TV stations are adding new features and looking ahead to 2016, when the presidential election will bring an influx of ad dollars in North Carolina’s largest city.

“We feel very fortunate that not only our station but also Charlotte is in bounce-back mode now and seeing growth,” says Jim White, WCCB general manager and VP. “It’s happening the right way. There’s a bright next two years staring at the Charlotte television market.”

Cox-owned WSOC is still the market leader in Charlotte, with Raycom’s WBTV a close second in the ratings.

Long affiliated with Fox, Bahakel Communications-owned WCCB is adjusting to life as a CW affiliate after Fox bought WJZY-WMYT two years ago and turned former CW affiliate WJZY into a Fox O&O.

Fortunately for WCCB, it did not lose any of its syndication assets and the timing has coincided with a high point in CW programming. That’s helped the station “survive that body blow,” as White puts it, and maintain its market position. “We allowed ourselves to mourn about six hours, then it was time to get busy,” he says. “We had to sort of rebuild ourselves, reinvent the station. It redirected us.”

Losing Fox meant losing NFL games, but that didn’t mean the complete disappearance of football. The station has aired Carolina Panthers preseason games and UNC Charlotte 49ers games.

White says WCCB has added about four hours of news each week, including live news breaks from 4-8 p.m. that feature weather updates, breaking news and teases for the 10 p.m. newscast. They are a key addition to the station’s evening programming, he says, allowing WCCB a news presence during a time period without a local newscast.

WCCB has also taken a new approach to promotion, with White likening it to “guerilla marketing.” The station sends its “CW street team” out to events to meet people, record videos and make promos out of them.

Now more than two years into its Fox era, WJZY is likewise continuing to evolve. The station delivers more than six-and-a-half hours of news a day, seven days a week, and does it in a non-traditional way, according to Kieran Clarke, who joined WJZY in August as general manager and VP. While on-air is still critically important, he says, WJZY has emphasized developing and distributing its news and content to other platforms, including apps and social media.

WJZY also has a mindset, Clarke says, that “we can be in more places in Charlotte with deeper coverage.” Out in the field, the station operates “lean” teams—rather than having three people in a truck with a camera—allowing them to do more stories and focus on all things local. Beyond Fox’s sports partnerships, including not only the Panthers but also NASCAR, the frenzy of sophomore phenom Empire has hit Charlotte. Fox even brought the Empire bus to Charlotte for auditions for musical spots. WJZY is seeing bigger lead-in audiences to sample its 10 p.m. news, and, in turn, its anchors stay well-versed on the primetime schedule and series story lines. “Our news team is also the primetime audience as well,” Clarke says.

Tegna-owned NBC affiliate WCNC is making a push to own weather and social media, but coverage starts with its new homegrown anchor team.

Fred Shropshire joined the station in June from Raleigh, while RightThisMinute’s Beth Troutman started in September. They coanchor the 6 and 11 p.m. news.

The duo routinely goes out into the community, anchoring and reporting from the field—part of a concerted effort to be “impact players” instead of just sitting behind a desk.

“We want real working journalists and working storytellers in our anchors,” says Deborah Collura, WCNC president and general manager. “It’s something we decided we wanted to set us apart.”

During his first week on the job, Shropshire went to Charleston, S.C., to anchor coverage of the shootings there. Anchors were also out reporting in the field over the summer during the Confederate flag controversy and covering a high-profile case involving a white police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man.

“Anything controversial or emotionally charged in the community, we like to get our anchors out front and center,” Collura says.

She says when people see anchors—the station’s “quarterbacks”—talking to community members about real issues, it strikes a chord. “They have a big impact and a big voice,” she says, crediting Tegna for allowing the station to try new things. “It puts us in no-lose situation.”

IN 2016, PURPLE NORTH CAROLINA MEANS GREEN FOR CHARLOTTE STATIONS

Having gone blue in 2008 and red in 2012, North Carolina will be a key swing state in the 2016 presidential race. For Charlotte stations, that means lots of ad dollars.

“We plan to make sure we are definitely a force for campaign dollars and PAC money,” says Kieran Clarke, WJZY GM/VP. “Estimates are it is going to be north of last political season.”

Stations have added newscasts and more news programming, making sure they have plenty of airtime for political coverage.

There is also more than just the presidential election race to win North Carolina. Stations in Charlotte, located on the border with South Carolina, hit several counties there and could see some of the state’s political advertising dollars as well. North Carolina also has gubernatorial and Senate races.

“It’s going to be a big political year for us,” says Deborah Collura, WCNC president and general manager. “We’re gearing up, getting ready for politics, getting ready for coverage.”

North Carolina also recently moved up its primaries from May to March. Stations could see ad dollars reaching the market in Q4, says Jim White, WCCB general manager and VP, but the big wave will likely hit in February.

“It’s light right now, comparatively speaking,” White says. “But that could change tomorrow.”

As the U.S. economy continues its rebound from the global crash years, one of the markets participating in the upswing is Charlotte, N.C.. The DMA is moving up the rankings to No. 22 from 24. Its TV stations are adding new features and looking ahead to 2016, when the presidential election will bring an influx of ad dollars in North Carolina’s largest city.

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