Market Eye: Chugging Along

Just like the train in Glenn Miller’s classic song, Chattanooga stations— and the locally made VW Passats—are firing on all cylinders
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There are multiple reasons to celebrate in Chattanooga, Tenn. The longawaited Volkswagen assembly plant is up and running, with sparkling newPassats rolling off the line. International corporations such as German chemical outfit Wacker and French energy company Alstom are bringing jobs to the region. Closer to home, distribution giant Amazon.com plans to have a couple of warehouses up and running in DMA No. 86 by the end of the year.

All this has been a boon for the local economy. “We’re getting a lot of traction in terms of people choosing to live here,” says Mike Costa, VP and general manager of WTVC. “Especially entrepreneurs.”

Stations shuffled their offerings for the fall season. CBS affiliate WDEF expanded morning news by adding the 7-8 a.m. hour on its digital channel. WDEF also launched a 7 p.m. newscast last month that Phil Cox, general manager, says addresses “a large and growing number of folks who don’t get home in time to watch local news at 6 p.m.”

There’s been a considerable shakeup when it comes to syndicated shows. Freedom Broadcasting’s WTVC grabbed Dr. Phil from WDEF and has it at 4 p.m., in place of Oprah Winfrey. WRCB, which introduced the market’s lone 4:30 a.m. newscast in January, replaced Dr. Oz with Anderson at 3 p.m., leading into Ellen. (Oz went to WDEF.)

Tom Tolar, WRCB president and general manager, is waiting for ratings from Anderson Cooper’s daytime rookie in the diary market, but he expects positive returns. “From what we’ve seen so far, it’s very good,” Tolar says of the show. “The question is whether there’s an appetite for that kind of programming.”

Chattanooga viewers have an appetite for news, with multiple players in the race, led by WTVC. The ABC affiliate won total-day ratings in the May sweeps and primetime by a household point over Morris Network’s WDEF and CP Media’s Fox affiliate WDSI. WTVC won early evening and morning news, too, and was virtually tied with Sarkes Tarzian’s NBC affiliate WRCB at 11 p.m., with a 5 household rating/17 share. WDSI has the top late news with its 10 p.m. show, produced by WTVC’s newsroom.

Tolar credits his news staff and promotion team with making late news competitive for WRCB despite garnering only around half of the competition’s ratings in primetime. “We work very hard to overcome our leadin issues,” he says. “That is a challenge.”

Rounding out the market is WFLI, a CW affiliate owned by MPS Media. Comcast is Chattanooga’s major subscription TV operator, followed by Charter and the satellite TV operators. Add in AT&T’s U-Verse and a new video/phone/Internet player in local utility company EPB, and the fight for subscribers is a lively one.

The subchannel landscape is lively, too. WDSI has MyNetworkTV on its multicast tier. WTVC has film channel This TV, along with high school football on Friday nights. WRCB and WFLI air vintage program channels RTV and Me-TV respectively. (RTV, part of Luken Communications, is based in Chattanooga.) WDEF, which airs the only local HD, has the testosterone-fueled Tuff TV.

Chattanooga is located on the southern border of Tennessee, a stone’s throw from Georgia and Alabama. The national and global corporations with footholds in the region keep unemployment in check; besides adding 2,000 or so jobs, the VW facility has brought in countless peripheral jobs for companies that support the plant.

Readers of Outside magazine fairly stunned the editors when they recently chose Chattanooga as 2011’s “Best Town Ever” for the city’s considerable natural attributes and the biking, boating and climbing associated with them.

Tropical Storm Lee caused local flooding last month, but it’s otherwise been pretty smooth sailing in Chattanooga. “We’ve been on a roll with good economic news coming in,” says Tolar. “By and large, we’re faring better than other parts of the country.”

The market also claims connections to recent reality TV. Extreme Makeover paid a visit in February. American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina is from the market, as is Dancing With the Stars contestant J.R. Martinez. “We’ve had a lot of reality exposure in our DMA,” says Costa.

The Chattanooga market is 85% white and 9% black, says BIA/Kelsey, with an even smaller Hispanic population.

WTVC won the 2010 station revenue race with nearly $14 million, reports BIA, ahead of WRCB’s $11.4 million. As part of Freedom, WTVC is for sale; a deadline for bids on the group has come and gone. Costa referred salerelated questions to a corporate rep, but says staffers remain focused on staying on top. “We take care of our business and run the best station we can,” he says. “Whatever happens, happens. We’ll be OK.”

Demand for spots has slowed a bit after a hot first half of the year, but Chattanooga’s diverse and growing economy bodes well for the future. “Nobody escaped the downturn,” says Tolar. “We just feel like we’re in a little bit better position than everybody else.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

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