It's a good time to be in Richmond, Va., say area station managers. Fortune 500 company MeadWestvaco moved its headquarters here recently. Ad shop The Martin Agency just scored the Wal-Mart account. Even the Queen of England is planning to visit.
That's right, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Jamestown Landing—where the English first set foot in the New World—Queen Elizabeth II is scheduled to show up in her best party hat this May. “There's a lot going on here,” says Don Richards, senior VP/general manager of NBC affiliate WWBT. “The mood is very good.”
Richards in particular has reason to be pleased. The Richmond-Petersburg market took in a projected $95.3 million in advertising revenue in 2006, according to BIA Financial, up from $88.3 million the year before, and WWBT led the pack. Owned by Lincoln Financial Group, the station grabbed $25.4 million in 2005 (the most recent year for which such numbers are available), followed by Raycom Media's CBS outlet WTVR ($23.5 million) and Young Broadcasting's ABC affiliate WRIC ($20.3 million).
Comcast is the major cable operator, and Verizon FiOS plans to roll out television in the region this year.
In November sweeps, WWBT was tops in total day, as well as nabbing the morning-, evening- and late-news crowns. Richards credits a hyper-local news focus and the right syndication mix. After a “monster [31 share] morning news,” he says, Rachael Ray rocks at 11 a.m.: “We had the highest-rated Rachael Ray of all the metered markets in the country.”
But given WWBT's slim lead in ad revenue and market share, the competition is gearing up. WTVR VP/General Manager Peter Maroney says the CBS affiliate is the fastest-growing station in the market, thanks to a daily news/variety program called Virginia This Morning that launched in September and a revamped Website, hatched with Web specialist WorldNow. “The layout is more horizontal,” Maroney says, “and it's got a much richer video environment.”
WTVR is also adding staff and upgrading its facility to produce the news for CW affiliate WUPV; the CW outlet's 10 p.m. newscast was slated to kick off March 5. WUPV General Manager John Rezabeck hopes it will jump-start the Southeast Media-owned station, which he said experienced “growing pains” in transitioning from a UPN outlet. “We went from more-ethnic program ming to more general,” he says. “We're introducing Gilmore Girls to a whole lot of folks.”
Also in the race is Young's WRIC, which was tops in prime in the past sweeps (thanks in part to Dancing With the Stars, the market's top-rated primetime show). And Sinclair's Fox outlet WRLH is making the most of its 25th anniversary, airing vignettes celebrating the station's history, such as the debut of its 10 p.m. news in 1994 (the original anchors, Curt Autry and Diane Walker, are still there).
Sinclair also owns the local MyNetworkTV outlet, which runs in the digital space. It shares content with WRLH and also airs local sports.
“It's the only station in town doing long-format programming,” says Bill Lane, who serves as general manager for both stations. “We're getting back to some of that local programming.”
With lots of new faces arriving in Richmond—and the longtime residents sticking around—managers say it's a particularly news-hungry crowd.
“They've got an investment in the community,” WWBT's Richards observes. “They watch news because they care.”