Market Eye: Badger Blues

Bruised Madison psyched for football
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As the capital and home of a giant state university, Madison is somewhat insulated from the economic malaise plaguing the country. But TV business is still down around 20% year-over-year, with unemployment and homeowner anxiety creeping upward.“We're feeling the effects of the recession, but it's not as bad as the rest of the state,” says WBUW VP/General Manager Tom Keeler. “There does appear to be light at the end of the tunnel.”

Madison stations have been making news. Acme CW outlet WBUW broke from Nielsen at the end of July; Keeler says he couldn't justify the cost amidst ratings he deemed to be consistently inaccurate. Bob Smith, a regional VP at Gray Television and general manager at WMTV, will add Young Broadcasting's WBAY Green Bay to his watch after the FCC approves the Young deal. That will give Gray greater reach across Wisconsin.

Morgan Murphy's WISC, a CBS affiliate, led the revenue pack in 2008, according to BIA Financial. Its $15.5 million haul bested NBC affiliate WMTV ($12.6 million), Quincy Newspapers' ABC outlet WKOW ($12.1 million) and Sinclair's Fox outlet, WMSN.

WISC and WMTV virtually split total day household ratings in May, and WISC won primetime and evening news. WISC Executive VP/GM David Sanks says the station offers no-nonsense news, with fewer commercials. “Our first effort is to report news events that affect our area,” he says. “Features don't get the bulk of our airtime.”

WMTV won mornings and late news, its 7.0 rating/18 share a point better than WISC at 10 p.m. Smith credits gains to the station's news director, Chris Gegg, whom he describes as “a real news-hound” and a hands-on news manager. “He's so focused and so energetic,” Smith says.

Fighting for ratings and dollars

Stations in the No. 85 DMA are fighting for every ratings point and ad dollar. WMTV takes on newspapers, cable and the Yellow Pages as part of its Triple Play Challenge. WKOW connects with viewers on Facebook, Twitter and its YouNews platform. WMSN offers live interactive radar on Fox47.com.

WBUW is envisioning a larger role for Emmy Fink, the station host both on-air and in the community. “We're developing some college marketing programs around her,” Keeler says.

Madison residents are thinking football this time of year, in the form of both the University of Wisconsin's Badgers and the NFL's Packers. They're also talking about a pending governor's race that became a lot more interesting when Gov. Jim Doyle said he won't seek a third term next year. “It's going to be a wide-open race,” Smith says. “That's going to be good for stations.”

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michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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