Five years ago, Nielsen Media Research made one market from three, adding Tuscaloosa and Anniston to the Birmingham, Ala., DMA and jumping the market from DMA 51 to 39. The move expanded considerably the ad base, although, local salespeople say, Birmingham remains the sales focus in the widespread market. However, Allbritton covers the market with three co-managed ABC affiliates—WCFT-TV Tuscaloosa, WJSU-TV Anniston and WBMA-LP Birmingham—so it can sell targeted spots.
The ABC affiliates compete with Fox's WBRC(TV) for top ratings locally, although NBC's Friends
is the market's top-rated network program.
According to BIA Financial—and confirmed by local execs—the market didn't drop all that much in 2001, largely because the dotcom industry hadn't made much of a dent here and, therefore, didn't have much impact when it crashed. Local TV revenues burst through the $100 million mark in 1998 and are expected to top $120 million this year.
Automotive is the driving force in ad sales and in the job market. Mercedes and Honda operate manufacturing facilities nearby. Retail has moved upscale, with new entries from Saks 5th Avenue and Nordstrom, although Macy's will soon disappear.
WIAT(TV) has had its share of upheaval. Soon after arriving at then WBMG in '97, General Manager Eric Land eliminated the old call letters, got rid of all on-air talent, and took the newscasts off the air while an on-air clock counted down to relaunch. The station benefited significantly when Nielsen brought meters into the newly enlarged market.
Land moved on to Media General's Tampa, Fla., station last year, and his successor, former General Sales Manager J.D. Huey, watched as the station launched a 6 p.m. newscast on his first day as GM: Sept. 10.