Market Eye: Feasting on the Competition

As WNEP staffers will tell you, there is such a thing as a free lunch in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton
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When your lead in a market is so large, where does a station look for competition? Answer: Across the rest of the country.WNEP, described by a Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton, Pa., market watcher as one of the half-dozen “800-pound gorillas” around the nation, finished the May sweeps with no fewer than seven of the No. 1 local newscasts in adults 25-54 in the nation’s top 100 markets, says Chuck Morgan, WNEP president and general manager; the station also posted three more at No. 2.

Morgan rewarded his staffers with a lineup of different food trucks each day the first week of August—brisket one day, Philly cheesesteaks the next, etc. It may seem like a major challenge to motivate staffers who are so far ahead, but Morgan emphasizes that if any rival gains market share, it will be at WNEP’s expense. “We have to stay on our toes,” he says.

The competition seems to be upping its game. Three years after scrapping news, CBS affiliate WYOU re-entered the game in April. WYOU and its co-operated WBRE flipped the switch on full HD, including commercials, in April as well. “We’re the only guys in the market to do [full HD],” says Bob Bee, WBRE vice president and general manager.

It will take some time for the changes to dent the top dog’s ratings. WNEP won all the major races in May; its 6 household rating/22 share in total day ratings tripled the nearest competitor. Besides winning primetime, the ABC affiliate took late news with a 9 rating/27 share—well ahead of WBRE’s 3/11. WNEP also had a convincing 5 rating/27 share at 11 p.m. in adults 25-54.

Morgan credits parent Local TV for its investment. The Scranton-based station recently replaced its news cars and got a new microwave truck. WNEP added a pair of multimedia journalists and is set to open a Wyoming Valley bureau in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

WNEP also invests in news in non-traditional slots, such as a year-old 4:30 p.m. newscast along with a 7 p.m. Saturday program. It is one of the rare stations to get Nielsen ratings for its subchannel; “WNEP 2” has 7-9 a.m. and 10 p.m. news; the latter averages 1s in household ratings. The station is about to launch WNEP 3—likely a partnership with a digital network.

Nexstar owns NBC affiliate WBRE and operates Mission Broadcasting’s WYOU. CP Media holds Fox affiliate WOLF and MyNetworkTV affiliate WQMY. MPS Media owns CW station WSWB. The major subscription TV operators are cablers Comcast and Blue Ridge and satellite providers DirecTV and Dish.

Bee succeeded Lou Abitabilo as WBRE GM in January. Abitabilo, who is following through on a lifelong passion for the water by running a travel service called CruiseOne, is adjusting to being a TV viewer as opposed to a broadcast executive. “When you’ve been in the business,” he says, “it’s in your blood.”

Bee, formerly WTAE Pittsburgh director of sales, brings rich experience to DMA No. 54. He has a growing operation: The 65-person newsroom produces 45½ hours of local news per week, including a 10 p.m. newscast for WOLF. WBRE and WYOU have common talent and Eyewitness News branding, and several newscasts are simulcast on both stations. The decision to bring back news on WYOU stemmed from CBS’ strength in prime, and the belief that killing, and then relaunching, a news operation was smarter than fixing an ailing one. “We thought it was better to launch from a position of new than a position of improved,” Bee says.

Nexstar does not subscribe to Nielsen, but Local TV does—and likes what it sees each sweeps. “We’re investing in all areas,” says Morgan, “to make sure we maintain our lead.”

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

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