Cincinnati likes to bill itself as a “Midwestern town with Southern flair,” says Chris Sehring, VP/GM of Clear Channel's CBS affiliate WKRC. Its economic backbone comes from a mix of manufacturing and white-collar jobs. A batch of Fortune 500 companies, including Procter & Gamble, Federated and Kroger, are headquartered in the area.
Known as conservative-leaning with many lifelong residents, the nation's No. 33 TV market has viewers intensely loyal to their stations and local newscasts.
“We have a big-market feel with our news,” says Bill Fee, VP/GM for Scripps Howard's ABC affiliate WCPO. The competitive CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC outlets air at least two newscasts a day. Raycom Media's Fox affiliate WXIX wins morning news; WKRC is top-rated in late news; WCPO leads at 5 p.m.; and NBC affiliate WLWT is strong at 6. In the past two years, three stations (WCPO, WKRC and WLWT) have overhauled sets, graphics and music for their newscasts.
The market is also flush from the fall ad season. Political money poured into Ohio for the presidential campaign and state and local races. Cincinnati stations raked in an estimated $23 million in political spots.
“No one was prepared for that kind of money,” says Fee. Many regular advertisers were misplaced, so stations are coaxing them back for the crucial fourth-quarter retail season. In local broadcast advertising, automotive is tops, followed by retail and home improvement. Fast food is an underdeveloped category ripe for growth. Next year, insiders expect ad revenue to cool to low-single-digit growth. This year, Cincinnati stations will rake in an estimated $160 million in TV revenues, per BIA.
And they'll do it covering a far-flung market, spanning southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and southwest Indiana. “The three geographic constituents may have different opinions,” says WXIX Vice President/GM John Long, “so we have to shape stories that interest everyone.”
In prime time, CBS affiliate WKRC is the leader. The Clear Channel-owned affiliate is nationally known, ranking among the top CBS stations in the country. Clear Channel also owns eight radio stations in the market and cross-promotes its media assets: WKRC's news talent makes frequent appearances around town, and CBS prime time stars visit. When Survivor favorite Rupert paid a recent visit, 3,000 people lined up at the zoo to meet him.
On the cable front, Time Warner is the dominant cable operator in the region, which has 65% cable penetration. Local newscasts also compete with the 24/7 regional cable network Ohio News Network.
“We're blessed that people still have a high regard for local TV,” says WLWT President/GM Richard Dyer. “It generates significant value for advertisers.”