Carolina in Their Minds

Charlotte embraces new arrivals

November sweeps are shaping up to be a blockbuster in Charlotte. The longtime market leader, ABC affiliate WSOC, is being challenged by surging CBS outlet WBTV and Fox station WCCB. Top spots in prime time and late news are up for grabs.

Previous sweeps set the stage. In May, WSOC grabbed No. 1 in mornings and early-evening news but finished second to WBTV at 11 p.m. WBTV's top rating in prime time lifted its news. “We were able to entice people and keep them for our news,” says WBTV VP/General Manager Mary MacMillan. Fox outlet WCCB nabbed second in households and won the 18-49 demographic, while NBC station WCNC was third in 11 p.m. news and fourth in prime.

By July, WSOC had regained No. 1 in late news. After the first five weeks of the fall season, WSOC boasted six of the market's top 10 prime shows, and its late news was beating WBTV's by a full rating point. “ABC prime is coming back,” says WSOC/WAXN VP/General Manager Lee Armstrong, “and we outperform our lead-ins.”

WCNC is shaking up early evening by adding Geraldo at Large. “At 4 p.m., very topical information is the most important thing,” says VP/General Manager Stu Powell.

The stations are jockeying for position in one of the South's biggest boom markets, where a steady stream of new jobs is a major draw. A downtown arena just opened, and the city center is being revitalized. Corporations such as Bank of America, Wachovia and Lowe's are headquartered there.

Local broadcasters took in $196.1 million in gross revenue last year, up from $178 million in 2003, according to BIA Financial. WSOC was the No. 1 earner, with $57 million, followed by WBTV's $45.1 million.

The market features two duopolies: Cox owns WSOC and independent WAXN, and Capitol Broadcasting has WB affiliate WWWB and UPN outlet WJZY. WSOC's Dr. Phil and Oprah Winfrey rerun the same day on WAXN in prime, often beating the UPN and WB stations. “The working audience has found these shows,” says Armstrong.

WSOC's news department produces a 10 p.m. newscast for WAXN, and WJZY airs a 10 p.m. news produced by WBTV. But WCCB notches the highest-rated 10 p.m. news. The first half of the hour-long show is a straight newscast, followed by The Fox News Edge, a talk-and-opinion program. “It is edgy and no-holds-barred,” says VP/General Manager John Hutchinson. Such a program, he adds, caters to the disparate tastes of Charlotte residents: “This is the Bible Belt but also a community with growth. We tackle anything and everything.”

Next: Hartford, Conn.