Economic optimism in Charm City


Baltimore, a city that celebrates Edgar Allan Poe, John Waters, blue crabs and its Super Bowl champ Ravens, is also a city that likes its news with breakfast. In early May, WJZ-TV's 6 a.m.newscast was averaging a 7.9 Nielsen rating/30 share, and WBAL-TV had a 5.7/22. That WJZ-TV rating was beaten by only the 11 p.m. newscasts of WBAL-TV and WJZ-TV. According to Jay Newman, WJZ-TV's vice president/GM, this "underscores how important these morning dayparts have become in this market. This is a relatively new phenomenon; I'm not even sure you would have seen this a year ago, and it's unique to Baltimore, I think."

Newman describes the competition between his station and WBAL-TV as "two very strong stations that tend to go back and forth month by month or year by year, depending on the daypart." Bill Fine, president/GM of WBAL-TV, agrees: "There's been a very strong race between us. We both have things to crow about." And both say that the tightest ratings race is at 6 p.m.

While, as in much of the country, ad spending by domestic auto manufacturers is down this year, Baltimore's first-quarter comparison with last year was not as bad as in many markets. One reason, says Fine, is that "Baltimore did not have a lot of political advertising so we didn't suffer from the comparison of having a ton of primary money last March. Telecommunications has been strong, and foreign auto spending has been strong. Local is definitely healthier than national. The optimistic view is that the back half of the year will be better."

Newman also is upbeat: "We had a better first quarter than we would have thought. We benefited from the Ravens romp through the playoffs and into the Super Bowl not only by having the games on WJZ but also in creating a whole series of special programming. We are finding that customary historical comparisons are not as relevant in 2001 as they have been in past years. Forecasting is very, very difficult."

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