Market Eye: Conventional Wisdom in Tampa

Traffic, security among local concerns as Republican Party rolls into town

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Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of the liveliest and most competitive TV markets in the nation. All six major network affiliates in DMA No. 14 feature different owners. There is a handful of strong Spanish-language stations, a well-funded independent and a cable news network blanketing weather and political news.

The Republican National Convention moves in on Aug. 27, and TV outlets will be setting up at the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena and covering local issues, such as dreadful traffic, around town.

Since there will be protests, station managers are working hard to train and equip their reporters for the unforeseen. “It’s different from any event I’ve been associated with,” says Richard Pegram, vice president and general manager of WFTS. “[Security] is something we’re investing a significant amount of money in.”

There has been extraordinary change at the stations, starting with WFLA. Owner Media General sold all but one of its newspapers, the lone survivor being the Tampa Tribune, which shares space with the NBC affiliate. Brad Moses became general manager of WFLA last March. The station is taking steps to evolve away from the newspaper-broadcast convergence philosophy. “We’re moving some physical things, some sales and news, back to a more traditional setup,” Moses says. “We continue to work together where it makes sense and are trying to get rid of things that weren’t as efficient.”

The ratings race has tightened. Two-tenths of a point separated the Big Four stations in total-day household ratings in the May sweeps, with Fox-owned WTVT on top. Gannett’s CBS affiliate WTSP won primetime by a tenth of a point, but WTVT took the adults 25-54 race easily. WTSP was tops at 11 p.m. with a 4.2 household rating/9 share, while WTVT had a 5.6/9 at 10 p.m. WTVT won a close a.m. battle and 5 p.m., while WFLA seized 6 p.m.

WTVT thrives on its “extremely tenured” anchor crew, says Jeff Maloney, WTVT VP/GM. “This market has a lot of good news-producing stations,” he says. “Every sweeps is a horse race.”

Stations include Scripps’ ABC outlet WFTS, CBS-owned CW affiliate WTOG, Hearst TV’s independent WMOR and Entravision’s Univision affiliate WVEA. Sinclair recently agreed to acquire MyNetworkTV station WTTA, which it has operated since 1998, for $40 million. WWSB is an ABC affiliate for the Sarasota side of the market. Bright House is the major subscription TV operator; its Bay News 9 channel turns 15 in September.

The stations have big things going on for fall, perhaps none bigger than WFTS’ new access shows Let’s Ask America and The List, which Scripps debuts Sept. 17. “It’s very exciting to have fresh programming that will attract a younger audience and be very saleable,” says Pegram.

WTSP grabbed Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from WFTS for this fall; the station recently launched a 9 a.m. news. “It’s a fun newscast,” says Ken Tonning, president/GM. “We stop in on the editorial meeting, the weather center, go out in the field for a couple live stories.”

WTVT debuted 11 p.m. weekend news July 8. WFLA premiered 7 p.m. news July 30. WMOR is pumped for a Thursday-night Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL telecast in October. “It’s huge for us,” says Ken Lucas, president and general manager. “We’ll make an event out of it.”

Bright House Sports Network will air high school state playoff games in several sports.

The GOP convention will help an ailing economy. “It’s getting better, but it’s still slow,” says Elliott Wiser, Bright House VP of news and local programming. “Things are not fast and furious, but it’s a big improvement compared to last year.”

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