Welcome to the birthplace of U.S. television. W2XB (now WRGB) Schenectady, N.Y., launched in 1928 and, in 1939, became what it says was the first NBC affiliate. There wasn't any competition then, but today, the Albany-Schenectady-Troy market is embroiled in a TV turf war.
Ranked 55 on Nielsen's list of designated market areas (DMAs), Albany is best known as the capital of New York. But the internecine fighting isn't limited to legislators. WRGB, now a CBS affiliate, is No. 2 and waging a battle for supremacy with Hubbard Broadcasting's NBC station WNYT. The two have been locked in a virtual tie in total-day household ratings for nearly two years.
And the war is about to heat up. In January, Freedom Broadcasting-owned WRGB named Bob Furlong general manager. The former KPHO Phoenix boss replaces Tom Long, now with Freedom's WWMT Grand Rapids, Mich. Young Broadcasting ABC affiliate WTEN also hired a new general, tapping Rene LaSpina from WCCO Minneapolis-St.Paul after Bob Peterson left for WRIC Richmond, Va. "With two new general managers in the market, the coming year will be more competitive than ever," says WNYT General Manager Steve Baboulis.
WNYT has its own turmoil. Former anchor John Gray sued the station to exit a noncompete agreement so he could join Fox affiliate WXXA. Having settled out of court, Gray starts his new gig in April. He has a big job ahead. WXXA's 5 p.m. newscast did not garner enough viewers to register in the November Nielsen ratings, and its 10 p.m. news lost 40% of its audience.
Time Warner Cable is the area's top MSO, with 295,000 subscribers. Cable penetration in the market is 78%. Satellite penetration is 12%, about half the national average. Dish Network recently began retransmitting local channels in the Albany market, and DirecTV plans to follow suit.
On the business front, state government is the area's largest employer and primary fodder for news—usually. "It depends on how relevant it is on any given day," says WTEN News Director Rob Puglisi.
Time Warner disagrees. In 2002, the operator launched Capital News 9, a 24-hour news service devoted to state government. Says Peter Taubkin, a vice president at Time Warner's Albany division, "This gives cable another tool to keep subscribers from defecting to satellite." In television, they call that smart business.