It Was a Very Good Year - Broadcasting & Cable

It Was a Very Good Year

Political and retail ads buoy stations during auto downturn
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Like broadcasters throughout the battleground state of Ohio, stations in Toledo enjoyed a windfall in political-ad money from this year's midterm election. But retail advertising, undimmed by the depressed auto industry, has been remarkably strong, spurring brisk business and tough competition in Nielsen's No. 71 market.

Thanks to a number of statewide elections and issues on the ballot, “the political was just out of control,” says Linda Blackburn, general sales manager at Raycom-owned CBS affiliate WTOL. After a rough 2005, in which the market's stations collected $50.3 million in gross revenue, according to BIA Financial, this year, it “has been very healthy,” Blackburn says, “[even] without political.”

“It is surprising—in this area of the country, what with the auto industry,” says Rick Lipps, general manager of NBC affiliate WNWO (recently acquired from Raycom by Barrington Broadcasting). “But they're selling cars, we're selling advertising, and the market is up.

“Of course, I'm not going to make my bonus on automobile advertising,” he adds, “but it has been that way for several years now.”

Along with LIN Television's Fox affiliate WUPW, the third-place WNWO has trailed WTOL and ABC-owned WTVG in fierce news competition, particularly in mornings.

WTVG, the longtime news leader between 5 and 7 a.m., fell behind WTOL in total viewers in February but bounced back in May and July. “We've really been focusing on—and have been for quite a while—breaking news, weather, traffic and school closings,” says WTVG News Director Brian Trauring.

And while WTOL has pulled ahead intermittently in total viewers, WTVG leads in the 25-54 news demo in three of five newscasts. In response, WTOL has “really worked on increasing the sense of urgency and the pacing in our newscasts,” says News Director Mitch Jacob.

With November sweeps just concluded, broadcasters in Toledo—a diary market—eagerly await the results. Midway through the sweeps period, WNWO promoted morning anchor Shenikwa Stratford to an evening anchor slot. “Very local news leadership is a big part of [Barrington's] plan,” says Lipps. “We're not No. 1 or 2, so we have to try harder.”

WTOL recently brought in a new morning anchor, Brad Harvey from WEWS Cleveland. The station also just finished a new weather center and has experimented in the past month with posting breaking-news alerts onto electronic billboards (owned by Lamar Advertising) in neighboring Lucas and Wood counties. When legendary University of Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler died Nov. 17, says WTOL's Jacob, “we had a board up on the digital boards with the news in less than 10 minutes.”

WTOL is also one of several stations that invested significantly in their Websites this year. “Our unique page views are up considerably year-to-year,” says Jacob. “We really push breaking-news alerts and streaming videos. When anything breaks, we get the crawl going on the air, the videos on the Website.”

On Election Night, WTVG ran continuous coverage on both its digital station and its online component, occasionally breaking into the broadcast as well.

“We were the only ones in Toledo who did that,” says Trauring. “It is very exciting to have the ability to try and do these things. It's like the pioneering spirit when broadcast was born. Now we're trying to figure out how to harness it.”

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