Market Eye: 'Easy’ Does It

Saints, Mardi Gras lift New Orleans (DMA #51)
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Life in New Orleans is always vibrant, but it’s been extra lively of late. There was the Saints’ memorable Super Bowl run and the mayoral election in early February. Of course, Mardi Gras, with all its cocktails and parades, kicks off Feb. 16.

Devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, New Orleans welcomes the good times. “The Saints home playoff games were like two major conventions,” says WVUE President/General Manager Joe Cook. “The crowds were rocking.”

Yet amidst the revelry was the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, which the New Orleans stations covered closely. New Orleans has a substantial Haitian community, and some residents felt a sense of déjà vu while watching the news from Port-au-Prince. “The reactions of the Haitians—'Where is everybody?’ 'Where is the help?’—I think it sent a chill up everyone’s spine,” says WWL President/General Manager Bud Brown.

The market has about 80% of the population it did pre-Katrina. It was DMA No. 43 beforehand, dropped to No. 53 when Nielsen resumed measuring the market two years later, and sits at No. 51 now. The Big Easy’s considerable charms—quirky architecture, world-class restaurants and inimitable nightlife—keep luring folks back. “There are cultural things that exist here that don’t exist anywhere else,” says WGNO/WNOL VP/General Manager Phil Waterman.

Belo’s WWL has ruled ratings for decades, and had another big book in November. It took all the major races, with the CBS affiliate’s 12.0 household rating/17.9 share at 10 p.m. topping Hearst NBC affiliate WDSU’s 5.6/8.7. Also in the hunt are Tribune’s ABC-CW duopoly WGNO/WNOL, Louisiana Media Co.’s Fox affiliate WVUE, Belo’s MyNetworkTV affiliate WUPL and LeSEA’s independent WHNO. WWL’s $31 million in 2008 was tops in the market, per BIA/Kelsey.

WWL was one of six stations awarded a 2010 duPont-Columbia award. “There’s a hunger in the market for newscasts that have substance and involve investigative reporting,” Brown says. “It’s a difficult thing to do in a 50+ market.”

Stations are fighting hard for No. 2. WGNO is growing its Good Morning New Orleans program, which launched in fall 2008. WDSU has a new partnership with the Times-Picayune’s NOLA.com. “We provide much more video than they can generate,” says President/General Manager Joel Vilmenay, “and they provide much more exposure for our content.”

WVUE may be making the most noise. The Fox outlet has added talent and equipment to up its local presence since Saints owner Tom Benson acquired it from Emmis in 2008. Cook says WVUE may relocate to offices in the Benson Tower—which its namesake bought last September—right across from the Superdome.

“To say it mildly,” Cook says, “we have ambitious plans.”

E-mail comments to michael.malone@reedbusiness.com, and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

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