City ‘Rich’ in Amenities

Famous art, Flying Squirrels define Richmond market

Richmond-Petersburg may not be a Top 50 market—yet—but the region offers big-town attractions. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was the only U.S. stop for a Tiffany exhibit that wrapped in mid-August, and the market was one of only five nationwide to screen ballyhooed NBC drama The Event in advance of its Sept. 20 debut, following a vociferous vote-in campaign on the WWBT Website.

“There’s a real strong metropolitan feel—great restaurants, concerts, shows,” says WTVR President/ General Manager Stephen Hayes. “But you go 10-15 miles outside the metro area, and it’s farmland. It’s unique in that regard.”

The television business is fruitful, as automotive, health care and, most notably, supermarkets up their TV spend. Grocery chain Ukrop’s left after it was sold, leaving Kroger, Food Lion and Giant to fight for customers.

TV revenue was up around 12.5% through the first six months of 2010. “[Business] is not back to where it was, but a number of sectors are contributing to the recovery,” says WWBT Regional VP/General Manager Don Richards.

The market’s Fortune 500 companies include tobacco giant Altria and utility corporation Dominion Resources. Gaining more than 100,000 residents in the last five years, Richmond-Petersburg has moved up one notch to DMA No. 57. Raycom’s NBC affiliate WWBT had the top total day household ratings in May, and won morning, early evening and late news. But the races are fairly close. WWBT’s 8.4 household rating/15 share at 11 p.m. bested Local TV’s CBS affiliate WTVR’s 7.6 rating/14 share and Young Broadcasting’s ABC outlet WRIC’s 5.8 rating/10 share. WTVR won the adults 24-54 Monday- Friday 11 p.m. race for the first time in years. WRIC topped WTVR for primetime plaudits.

WWBT produces the 10 p.m. news for Sinclair’s Fox affiliate, WRLH, which airs MyNetworkTV on its .2 channel. WWBT also manages Southeastern Media’s CW outlet WUPV.

WWBT, which Raycom acquired in 2008, won the revenue race last year with $24.8 million, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of WTVR’s $19.23 million. WWBT thrives on sticking close to its “On Your Side” advocacy message, and the right blend of market veterans and innovative newcomers on staff. “We’ve got a lot of experienced people in the building who really understand the market,” Richards says. “But we’re not afraid to experiment.”

Among the innovations are a program called America Now that debuts later this fall and features content from all the Raycom stations, and 15-20 neighborhood Websites WWBT will launch with DataSphere later this month. “It gives us another opportunity to talk to folks in those neighborhoods,” Richards says, “and to retailers we wouldn’t normally talk to.”

WTVR is not sitting by idly. The station went HD in August, and Hayes, who succeeded Peter Maroney after Maroney left for Local’s Denver stations, launched Saturday 6-8 a.m. news Sept. 18. “It gives us more locally produced programming than anyone in the market,” Hayes says.

While residents enjoy Richmond’s urbane offerings, they also thrill to the small-market trappings, such as the recently concluded rookie year of minor league baseball’s Richmond Flying Squirrels. “The team,” Richards says, “really captured the hearts and minds of the town.”

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