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Some might envision Milwaukee as a sleepy Midwestern news town, but that’s hardly been the case in 2011. The year kicked off with a bang, as the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl (putting up a gaudy 60 rating/85 share on Fox affiliate WITI) and the fullthroated protests to Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill, which proposed limiting the collective bargaining capability of unions, started up at the Capitol in Madison, 80 miles from Milwaukee. On June 16, the State Senate finally passed the budget.
All the footballs—political and otherwise—have given Milwaukee stations considerable meat to sink their reportorial teeth into, and the political issues circling the Capitol have kicked substantial ad money to stations’ coffers. “It’s been nonstop in this market since January,” says Chuck Steinmetz, WITI president and general manager, who mentions a massive blizzard sneaking in between those events.
WISN has been nonstop as well. The Hearst Television station won total day household ratings in the May sweeps, along with 6 a.m. and early evening news. WISN also won primetime, a rare achievement for an ABC affiliate, as the station’s numbers grew 26% from the previous May.
Late news was a hot contest: Journal Broadcast Group’s NBC affiliate WTMJ, which plays up its investigative journalism, had a 9.3 household rating/16 share at 10 p.m., ahead of WISN’s 8.6/15. But WISN’s expanded late news at 10:30 has thus far been a hit.
Local TV’s WITI was runner-up in primetime and won the 5 a.m. race. Weigel’s WDJT is the CBS affiliate. Sinclair owns CW affiliate WVTV and MyNetworkTV station WCGV. The primary subscription TV operator is Time Warner Cable, followed by Charter.
Milwaukee stations brought in just shy of $144 million last year, according to BIA/Kelsey, which forecasts $128.8 million in total revenue this year for DMA No. 35. Recall elections for nine State Senate districts this summer will help keep political spending sanguine.
“There is no off-year,” says Steve Wexler, executive VP of Journal Broadcast Group and general manager at WTMJ, speaking about the conventional wisdom of odd-numbered years and political spending. “It’s the off-year that wasn’t.”
The general managers believe the Milwaukee stations outperform their market size. They call it a good journalist’s market, and one that reporters often think will be a stepping stone but end up sticking around due to the quality of life. “It’s not a sleepy market,” Steinmetz says. “People are often surprised when they come here to see how good and polished and contemporary the newscasts are.”
Jan Wade, WISN president and general manager, notes that all Big Four network stations showed ratings growth in the May book, no small accomplishment in today’s balkanized media environment. She credits the long tenures of the WISN crew and the strong competition with bringing out the best in the ABC affiliate. “We keep each other at the top of our game,” Wade says of the stations. “It’s a very good TV market.”
Stations are adding local content to match up with the outsized amount of news going on. WITI was first with 4:30 a.m. news early in 2010, and WISN followed suit in September. WITI kicked off Real Milwaukee at 9 a.m. in September. Produced out of the newsroom and featuring four hosts, the show reminds Steinmetz of The View. “It’s an extension of our morning news, but it’s not a traditional newscast,” he says.
WTMJ has its own take on 9 a.m. with The Morning Blend, a lifestyle show with some sponsored segments, including ones about doctors, decorators and boutiques, and its own Website (themorningblend.com). The station also offers a rare 3 p.m. news, which features not only WTMJ talent but personalities and reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper and Journal-owned local radio. Wexler calls the show “conversational.”
“We use the assets of our company,” he says, “to help explain/cover/discuss/debate local news and events.”
WDJT airs jock talk show The Sports Fanatics at 10:30 a.m. Sundays and vintage programs on multicast network Me TV over the air on channel 49.1.
Milwaukee station executives are curious to see if the so-called Brew City can keep up the inordinate amount of news it has been generating since Aaron Rodgers led the Pack to their title in early February. “It’s been a very interesting year so far,” says Steinmetz, “and we’re not even halfway through it.”
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