Market Eye: Hire Ambitions in Philly

Viewers show ABC the (brotherly) love, but rivals sense opportunity
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Things are being reshaped in Philadelphia. A longtime GM recently moved across the street. An afternoon icon has left, leaving the 4 p.m. race more open than it’s been in decades. And one of the market’s corporate icons, Comcast, has elevated its stature, globally and locally, since acquiring NBC.

WPVI has a new news director in Tom Davis, but not a new employee. Davis, who succeeded Carla Carpenter after she shifted to corporate, has been with WPVI since 2004. The ABCowned station has not skipped a beat. “Tom’s got great experience and is a very strong leader who motivates well,” says Bernie Prazenica, WPVI president and general manager. “He’s a future-thinker who’s pushing us in the direction we have to go.”

As befits the fourth-largest U.S. market, giant owners abound in Philly. Besides ABC’s WPVI, the network-owned stations are CBS’ KYW, NBC’s WCAU, Fox’s WTXF and Univision’s WUVP. Tribune has MyNetworkTV outlet WPHL, and CBS also owns CW affiliate WPSG. Comcast is, of course, the primary subscription TV operator.

Dennis Bianchi, longtime WCAU president/ GM, left for WTXF on Feb. 1. Bianchi of course knows the competitive landscape well, and says he’s becoming more familiar with his new shop. “I’m getting to know the different vibe of a different company and different station,” he says, adding, “Fox is a very innovative group.”

Philly station execs are curious to see what Comcast’s ownership will mean for WCAU; NBC’s owned stations are receiving considerable resources, in the form of workforce, vehicles and equipment. “I expect to see more competition coming from that,” says Jon Hitchcock, president and general manager at KYW-WPSG. “It adds better product to the marketplace.”

Comcast’s expanded profile also involves WPHL, which has a 10 p.m. news produced by WCAU. Eric Lerner, formerly of KIRO Seattle, will take over as GM of WCAU on March 21.

WPVI had its usual huge February sweeps, winning the key news races, along with total-day ratings. WPVI’s 7.9 household rating/15 share at 11 p.m. topped KYW’s 6.2/12, though KYW won primetime. Prazenica speaks of an “internal pride in winning” that has kept WPVI ahead for years. “It’s a ratings book every day of the year,” he says. “You’ve got to be pepped up every day.”

But the race is tightening at 4 p.m. At WPVI, what was a 16 share with Oprah Winfrey at 4 last year was a 10 with news in February. KYW moved Dr. Phil to 4 p.m. “We saw a change in the competitive landscape,” says Hitchcock.

Philly’s economy is ailing, but station execs are optimistic that blockbuster election spending later this year—the market can benefit from races in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey—will turn things around. “Political will be very healthy in 2012,” says Bianchi.

Stations are pushing new things to get their content around the market. KYW last month debuted a partnership with esteemed science museum Franklin Institute that sees the station supply weather content for the Institute’s screens and programs. “We saw a great mutual benefit from a branding standpoint,” says Hitchcock.

WTXF has a monster 5½-hour morning block. WPHL put a new spin on a retro local entertainment show and has gotten a big bang from The Big Bang Theory at 7:30 and 11 p.m. The station launched Tribune morning show Eye Opener Oct. 31 and hired staff to produce the local bits. “It’s nice to bring everyday production back to the station,” says Vincent Giannini, WPHL VP and general manager.

WPVI’s mobile traffic went from 82 million page views in 2010 to 174 million in 2011. The station thrives on covering the local parades, auto shows and other events that make Philly what it is. “It works, and we’re committed to it,” says Prazenica. “It makes us who we are.”

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

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