Getting Greener All the Time

Pecking order shaking up in eastern Carolina
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Greenville-New Bern-Washington sees enormous swings in market share among its stations. Esteem Broadcasting’s WFXI grabbed four percentage points of revenue share from 2008 to 2009, according to BIA/Kelsey, while Media General’s WNCT lost three. Bonten Media’s WCTI grabbed almost four share points last year in DMA No. 103, while Gray Television outlet WITN dropped five—after it picked up a whopping 10 percentage points of revenue in 2008.

General managers say the dramatic swings are more indicative of a smaller market—where an anchor change or a major advertiser shifting its spend to another station can have a significant impact on multiple stations—than they are unique to the region. “There’s a little more volatility in the smaller markets,” says one.

NBC affiliate WITN seems to have its momentum back. VP/General Manager Chris Mossman says the region, a mix of agriculture and beaches, isn’t a huge Winter Olympics market, but the Games certainly didn’t hurt the February sweeps. WITN won all major races, and posted an 8.5 rating/26 share at 11 p.m.—better than WNCT’s and WCTI’s 5.7 rating/17 share. (WITN won by a slimmer margin on non-Olympic nights.)

According to Mossman, the key is major reach in the vast DMA, a diary market that spans 15 counties. He says WITN covers another dozen counties in neighboring TV markets, and has bureaus in New Bern and Jacksonville and newscasts airing from both Greenville and Washington. “Nobody covers the market like we do,” he says. “We do more news than any other station here.”

The race for No. 2 is tightening up, as ABC affiliate WCTI attempts to elbow past CBS affi liate WNCT, which has been hurt by layoffs. Former Emmis TV chief Randy Bongarten bought WCTI in late 2006, and exhaustive research has helped the station grow ratings. “We spent a lot of time and money seeing what people want, then offering that to our viewers,” says interim General Manager Jim McKernan. “We’re good listeners.”

WCTI has a shared services agreement with Fox affiliate WFXI. The next challenge is finding a full-time GM to run the stations. McKernan, who manages Bonten’s stations in the “Tri-Cities” market in Virginia/Tennessee, says a new station boss should be in place by midsummer.

WNCT is hardly letting WCTI pass it by. It and WITN were virtually deadlocked for the revenue lead last year: WNCT booked $8.15 million while WITN grabbed $8.13 million, per BIA/Kelsey. WNCT is adding a half-hour to its morning news, which will start at 5 a.m., likely in late June. “As the market gets back to full steam, it’s an easy decision to make,” says VP/General Manager Vickie Jones. “We need to do it to be competitive.”

Indeed, the TV business appears strong again. Automotive advertising is up some 70% year-todate, and retailers’ ads are up around 40%. “Now that everybody’s regrouped, people are spending a little bit of money,” Jones says. The military has an outsize presence in the DMA, particularly the Marines hubs Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point.

The military represents about $500 million a year, between what families spend around town and the business the bases generate. Armed forces figure heavily into the local news. “They’re a big part of the social fabric and a big part of the economy,” McKernan says.

“They’re part of your thinking all the time.” Revenue share may fluctuate in eastern Carolina, but Mossman speaks for many NBC affiliates these days when he touts a brighter future for the station, thanks to a strong network upfront presentation a few weeks ago. “It’s a good time to be an NBC affiliate,” he says. “You didn’t hear a lot of that coming from NBC GMs a year ago.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

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