The Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.-Asheville, N.C. market has morphed from a textile-based economy into a diverse business center. "Industry is moving here, so we're in a better position to grow," says Mike Hayes, general manager at Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate WYFF. The resurgence was sparked by two factors: BMW's arrival in the 1990s and its location along the Southeast tech corridor, running from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., which draws high-tech firms.
Still, the No. 35 Nielsen market has no dominant city in the tri-city area. Each claims its own hometown station: Greenville has WYFF; Spartanburg, Media General's CBS affiliate WSPA; and Asheville, Sinclair-owned ABC affiliate WLOS. Meredith owns Asheville-based Fox affiliate WHNS. "If you look up the term hyphenated in the dictionary, there's a picture of our market," says WYFF News Director Andy Still.
It's also a hot seat for general managers. In the past 18 months, the GM from WYFF retired, WSPA's was promoted, WLOS's took another job, and WHNS's was booted. Ad revenue, however, is more stable. BIA projects it will hit $115 million this year, up 9.5% from 2003. Even though Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards has roots in the area, stations report only a modicum of presidential monies; a hotly contested U.S. Senate race takes up the political slack.
Viewers in each submarket show a preference for their local station. As a result, no station dominates news ratings. WYFF narrowly wins in households at both 6 and 11 p.m., but fewer than three share points separate the top three stations at 11. Two companies operate duopolies. In addition to WSPA, Media General owns WASV, a UPN affiliate in Asheville, and WNEG, a satellite CBS affiliate in Toccoa, Ga. Sinclair owns both WLOS and WB station WBSC in Anderson, S.C.
In cable, Charter dominates, covering about 90% of the DMA. Penetration is well below the national average, since the area's mountainous topography steers people toward satellite. Nearly one-third of households get their TV service from Dish Network or DirecTV; both carry local stations.
The tri-city market is expected to continue its economic metamorphosis in 2005. Clemson University is developing a $115 million International Center for Automotive Research aimed at turning the northwest corner of South Carolina into a new Detroit. Harvard Business Review reports there is more international investment per capita here than any other U.S. market.
All this is a boon to long-term station revenue. "This is a vibrant, booming area," says WSPA General Manager Phil Lane, "and we expect the outlook for the next five to seven years to be rosy."