Kevin Harvick won this year's Daytona 500 by a fraction of a second, but the once photo-finish news race in the Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, Fla., market isn't nearly that close anymore. Cox ABC affiliate WFTV had a smashing May sweeps, winning total-day ratings, primetime, and morning, evening and late news, while also posting the three top syndicated shows. Although WKMG has been riding the strong CBS primetime for years, it's clearly in a distant second place now.
WFTV VP/General Manager Shawn Bartelt credits a stable anchor team and a hungry pack of news hounds. “We tend to have more reporters on the street at any given time,” she says. “We push them hard to dig deep and provide more local coverage.”
The Orlando market is, by all accounts, a boomtown. The numerous theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida, of course bring scads of tourists into the area; one general manager says there are around 900,000 tourists on any given day—swelling the population by more than 25%.
But the No. 19 DMA is diversifying: A Burnham Institute for Media Research facility is slated to open, the tech sector is robust, real estate is inching back, and political monies will flow in late this year, abetted by Florida's moving its primary date up to Jan. 29. “We're in the front of the pack, where we've never been,” says WOFL VP/General Manager Stanley Knott.
The market, ranked No. 15 in revenue, brought in $342.8 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $306.1 million in 2005. WFTV led with an estimated $83.9 million, ahead of Post-Newsweek's WKMG ($67.8 million), Hearst-Argyle's NBC outlet WESH ($55.825 million), and Fox O&O WOFL ($54 million). Duopolies abound: Hearst owns CW affiliate WKCF, Cox has the independent WRDQ, and Fox the MyNetworkTV outlet WRBW.
With a booming job market, the region has long attracted people from all corners of the globe. Some estimates have the population doubling—to more than 7 million—by 2050.
The market has two overriding interests. One is the weather; the hurricane season just started and runs through October. The other topic is more fun: Viewers are passionate about high school sports. “It's the one thing that pulls such a broad-based market together,” says Bill Baumann, president/general manager of WESH, which will introduce a high school sports component online and on-air in August.
Indeed, the stations are brainstorming ways to grab market share from WFTV. WESH recently introduced an online consortium of car dealers at centralfloridacars.com, as well as a local search directory called The A List (wesh .cityvoter.com). WOFL will introduce a 6 p.m. news next month, to be partnered with the TMZ syndicated show when it debuts in September.
WKMG has several new faces at the anchor desk, including main sports anchor David Pingalore from Cleveland, and added Hispanic entertainment network LATV on a digital channel this summer. “It gets us into an area we want to be in,” says VP/General Manager Henry Maldonado. “We now have an entire station for the [Hispanic] community.”
But it's likely to be some time before WFTV loses its lead. Bartelt credits technological breakthroughs and an exceptional work ethic for the station's success. “We were the first station in the state to go hi-def, including HD radar and weather-graphics package,” she says. “We work hard every day to live up to viewers' expectations.”