Broadcasters battlin' for bucks, books


The country's 20th TV market, Pittsburgh, is among the most competitive. "We have kind of a unique situation," says Stephanie Satterfield, vice president and director of spot buying at Pittsburgh's MARC Advertising, "in that we have three strong news stations with KDKA, WTAE and WPXI. They have their ups and downs, as well as their various strengths by demo, but overall it's a three-station news market, which is healthier than some of the other markets our size. Fox [WPGH] is very strong, and The WB [WCWB] and UPN [WNPA] have filled in nicely for the younger demos."

And then there's cable, which has a long history there. "Between the [Cox Cable] Interconnect and Fox Sports Channel, it's sort of like [having] another Fox station in the market. They're significant competitors," says John Howell, WPXI general manager.

There could be more competition if the FCC approves a plan by noncommercial WQED to sell its second station, WQEX (ch. 16), to Pittsburgh native Diane Sutter, who would make it a commercial outlet. "We need another player like we need a hole in the head," says Jim Hefner, WTAE's general manager.

The intense competition has generated controversy over the practice of sweeps contesting by WPXI and WTAE during their 5 p.m. newscasts. Gary Cozen, KDKA's general manager, has long opposed the practice: "There is really nothing that has had so dramatic an impact on distorting the ratings as these contests. The bottom line is, pure and simple, that it is ratings manipulation." His competitors, obviously, disagree. WPXI's Howell says of the advertisers: "I think they understand that it's just one more thing that we do, like promotion or buying radio time, to try to get people to come and see our product."

One thing they all agree on is that Pittsburgh displays strong economic indicators. "There's a big renaissance going on," says KDKA's Kozen. "It's a very different city that, for the first time in a long time, is really pulling itself together."