Market Eye: Bucking the Trend

DMA #34: Columbus weathered recession well
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Business is gaining momentum in Columbus, home of The Ohio State University, and WBNS is, too. The Dispatch Broadcasting station has long been a ratings giant in Columbus, but it has extended its lead over the rest of the pack. Thanks to private ownership based in Columbus and a well-established anchor crew, WBNS had a memorable November book. “We've won every news race before,” says President/General Manager Tom Griesdorn, “but not by this margin.”

As is often the case with capitals and university towns, Columbus held up relatively well during the recession. It's home to the likes of fast food chain Wendy's, Nationwide Insurance and apparel-accessories outfit Limited Brands, which adds to the stability. “Columbus has been a fortunate oasis during this downturn,” Griesdorn says. “It's suffered, but not as much as other Midwestern markets.”

The market has actually dropped a couple of spots in Nielsen's DMA rank, going from No. 32 earlier this year to No. 34, with Salt Lake City and in-state rival Cincinnati slipping by. Stations saw an advertising windfall this past fall when a hot gambling issue was on the docket, and a healthy political race is on tap for 2010. What one station executive called a “grocery war”—an advertising arms race between Kroger and Giant Eagle—has also fattened station coffers.

A metered market, Columbus is awaiting demo ratings, while WBNS took the households easily. The CBS affiliate won total day ratings, primetime, morning and early evening news, and doubled all comers in late news with a 10.8 rating/20 share. Media General's NBC outlet WCMH and Sinclair's ABC affiliate WSYX tied for second at 11 p.m. WSYX airs MyNetworkTV programming on a digital channel and manages Cunningham's Fox affiliate, WTTE. LIN owns CW affiliate WWHO. The digital entertainment network .2, planning to launch in the first half of 2010, is also based in Columbus.

Dan Bradley took over at WCMH July 1 after Rick Rogala jumped to Nexstar; he'd previously been director of digital journalism and content. At the time, Media General Executive VP/COO Reid Ashe called Bradley “a driving force in our media convergence efforts.” The general managers at WCMH, WSYX-WTTE and WWHO did not return calls for comment on their stations.

WBNS won the 2008 revenue race, according to BIA/Kelsey, grabbing $58.2 million, ahead of WCMH ($38.7 million) and WTTE ($37.6 million). The station benefits from its sister cable channel ONN and a deep reserve of experience on both sides of the camera. “I'm happy to say most department managers have been here at least 10 years,” says Griesdorn, B&C's 2009 General Manager of the Year for markets 26-50 (see story, p. 10). “We all know each other's moves.”

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