GM of the Year, Markets 26-50: Tim Ingram, WVUE, New Orleans
In the TV business, WWL was as much a New Orleans landmark as Jackson Square or Café du Monde. The CBS affiliate dominated the Crescent City for decades, until general manager Tim Ingram and his team from Fox affiliate WVUE flipped the market.
During last year’s November sweeps, Gray Television-owned WVUE won all of the news time periods except noon. “I’m never going to win at noon unless Young and the Restless goes off the air,” Ingram said. The station celebrated with its biggest Christmas party ever, with treats including broiled oysters.
“We walked around high-fiving each other for about three days and then got back to work,” Ingram said. “That’s what I like about this team. They work hard, they play hard and they do it together.”
According to BIA, WVUE increased its share 3% over the preceding year and finished 2018 as the top station in New Orleans, earning a 27.3% share of the $95.7 million market. Tegna’s WWL was just behind with a 27.2% share.
Ingram grew up in Arkansas and didn’t want to farm like the rest of the family. When he caught the TV bug, he wanted nothing more than to end his career running KAIT Jonesboro (Arkansas). He started out as a director at KAIT and later was operations director at KLTV in Tyler, Texas, before returning to KAIT in 2007 as general manager.
He went on to run KFVS Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Then in 2015 — during the shortest job interview ever, Ingram said — he was offered the job running WVUE for Gray, which had acquired the Fox affiliate the year before.
WVUE had a strong news operation, headed up by Mikel Schaefer, reflecting the Big Easy with coverage of food, music, Mardi Gras and the Saints. “It was important to bring in a GM who was strategic, competitive and who believed they could really win, and Tim did,” said Sandy Breland, VP at Gray Television and Ingram’s predecessor. “He was able to inspire people and instill this can-do attitude.”
One of Ingram’s most important moves was to shuffle eight anchors, including bringing two popular late-news faces, John Snell and Nancy Parker, to WVUE’s breakfast shift in 2016 as WWL was about to replace two hours of local news with CBS This Morning.
The morning show took off and WVUE’s 9 a.m. hour often pops a 10 household rating. “New Orleans has different circadian rhythms,” Ingram said. And in late night, WVUE’s sports reports often beat the network talk shows during football season.
Ingram also restructured his sales side, creating teams consisting of a media sales consultant, who tracks down clients and secures business, and a success manager, who makes sure schedules run and customers get exemplary service.
Danielle Medina, director of local investment, noted that WVUE has strong news programming and gets powerful promotion during the Saints games it airs. “WVUE is very collaborative; they’re always willing to put together a promotion tied to local, high-profile events such as the Saints, the LSU Tigers or Mardi Gras,” she said.
Dealing with Tragedy
Ingram and the station were tested by tragedy Aug. 16 when Nancy Parker was killed in a plane crash while reporting a story. (Unlike some stations, WVUE anchors report from the field.) Ingram was in the newsroom as Parker’s death was confirmed, and the station initially reported on the crash while withholding the victims’ names until family could be notified.
“It rocked the station and the entire city,” Breland said. “Tim stayed at the station for days. He was helping people deal with their grief without really taking time to grieve himself. And then he immediately went into planning every detail of Nancy’s memorial service. He did not want to let her down. And it was a beautiful tribute broadcast live on the station.”
Ingram called the experience “probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. There’s no playbook for that.”
At a time when many are down on the TV business, Ingram sees opportunities at WVUE. The station has rolled out two new sports news apps, one for the Saints, the other for LSU.
“I’m still bullish on television,” he said.