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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing took to the local airwaves in mid-November, detailing for Detroiters just how dire the city's economic situation is. While Detroit's fiscal ills are news to no one, Bing's TV address nonetheless underscored how entrenched the city is in crisis.
Yet there are reasons to be optimistic. The automotive giants that give Motown its identity are on solid footing, following the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler. Unlike his predecessor, Bing has avoided embarrassing personal controversies. Local teams are giving residents reason to celebrate; the Tigers nearly made the World Series, while the Detroit Lions and their winning record are one of the big surprises of the NFL season.
The general managers in DMA No. 11 remain tireless cheerleaders for Detroit. "There's a good feeling right now in the city," says Ed Fernandez, VP/GM at WXYZ."We know we're not totally out of the woods, but there's tremendous momentum in the community."
Detroit features one of the great local news contests, between ABC affiliate WXYZ, NBC outlet WDIV and Fox-owned WJBK. The market has a range of ownership models, including network parents, outfits known for extraordinary journalism and a locally based independent. The competition brings out the best in all. "It's a very tight TV market," says Marla Drutz, VP and general manager at WDIV. "On any given day, any given station can be in the driver's seat."
Scripps' WXYZ won total-day household ratings and primetime in the November sweeps. Post-Newsweek's WDIV won early evenings and late news -- the latter with an 8.9 rating/16 share (ahead of WXYZ's 8.1/14) and won 11 p.m. demo ratings too. WJBK has news 10-11:30 p.m. and is strong in adults 25-54; the Fox affiliate also won morning news.
WXYZ won the 2010 revenue contest, according to BIA/Kelsey, its $78.5 million ahead of WDIV's and WJBK's $69 million.
CBS owns CBS outlet WWJ -- whose news output includes a 2½-minute "First Forecast"at 11 p.m. -- and CW affiliate WKBD. Granite owns MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYD, which features local reporters but an anchor crew based at a sister station in Fort Wayne, Ind. Adell Broadcasting has independent WADL, which has broadened its programming lineup in a strategy shift.
Comcast is Detroit's main subscription television operator.
Extensive community service is part of local stations' DNA, whether it's food banks or job fairs or other outreach. Last January, WXYZ kicked off "Detroit 2020,"which Fernandez calls "a decade-long community initiative"that addresses the market's most pressing issues in the form of news segments and specials and town hall meetings around the region. It aims to inspire people to pitch in on Detroit's recovery.
"The community has really rallied around it,"says Fernandez. "It's one of the most gratifying things I've been associated with."
WJBK takes part in an Adopt-a-School program, mentoring students at Communication & Media Arts High. "We taught a class and took the kids through the curriculum,"says Jeff Murri, station VP/general manager. "You never know how many young journalists might come from this effort."
Stations put extra emphasis on the dayparts they have set out to own. NBC's primetime woes mean razor-sharp promotions crafted to drive tune-in on WDIV at 11. Drutz says the station offers "hold for sweeps-type pieces year-round. "I'm a big believer that you have to give people an important reason to watch,"she says.
WJBK has added six hours of news a week, shifting Wendy Williams to make for a gargantuan 4:30-noon a.m. block (see sidebar), and starting weekend morning news a half-hour earlier. Murri suspects the station's 63Â½ hours of local news per week might be tops in the U.S. "The sheer volume of news we have gives us a significant advantage in serving our community," he believes.
WWJ-WKBD debuts Steve Harvey and Modern Family next fall, and flips the switch on full HD early in 2012. It has a catchy tagline leading into First Forecast in "Two and a Half Men starts in 2 ½ minutes." "That's been a real positive in terms of hanging on to people coming out of primetime," says Trey Fabacher, vice president and general manager.
The biggest shift belongs to WADL, which no longer promotes itself as "Detroit's Urban Station." WADL decreased its religious paid programming load, and has a wider range of syndicated shows, as varied as It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Hogan's Heroes. "There's still The Jeffersons and Good Times, but we aim to better serve the entire market where we are licensed," says Steve Antoniotti, president and general manager.
WMYD, for its part, is seeing a spike in trade school advertising, as much of the population seeks to redefine itself. "A lot of people are going back to school and retraining in different areas," says David Bangura, president and general manager.
The city is aiming to redefine itself too. Through it all, general managers say Detroit remains a giant TV-watching town. "The market's got an insatiable appetite for news," says Drutz, "and a lot of news happens."
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