Market Eye: Hot ’Lanta Cooking AsWSB Turns Up the Heat

Competitors to No. 1 station trying everything from grassroots marketing to sports to syndicated fare
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Nothing, it appears, can slow down WSB Atlanta. The Cox Media Group station survived the retirement of lead anchor John Pruitt a few years back, and again stayed strong when Pruitt’s longtime partner, Monica Pearson, wrapped up 37 years at WSB last year.

The ABC affiliate thrives on savvy hires, says Tim McVay, VP and general manager, and a steely focus on execution. “We’ve been able to grow upon our leadership position, and that’s awful hard to do,” says McVay, who credits Pearson for smoothing the transition.

McVay took over WSB two years ago. Trey Fabacher, a CBS veteran, was named WGCL general manager a year ago. Jack Walsh, former WGCL local sales manager, became general manager at WUPA late last year.

WSB took all the major ratings races in the May sweeps, including primetime, and grabbed 11 p.m. with a 9.4 household rating/18 share, ahead of WAGA’s 3.2/6. (Fox O&O WAGA put up a 5.3/9 at 10 p.m.) WSB had an estimated $138.1 million in revenue in 2012, according to BIA/Kelsey, trailed by WAGA’s $107.3 million.

Gannett owns NBC outlet WXIA and MyNetworkTV station WATL. Meredith owns CBS affiliate WGCL and has a management agreement with Time Warner’s “Peachtree TV.” CW affiliate WUPA is part of CBS, while Univision has WUVG, whose 11 p.m. news marked its two-year anniversary in April with a new dual anchor format. WUVG also airs the Sunday public affairs show Nuestra Georgia.

Comcast is Atlanta’s main subscription TV operator, while AT&T’s U-verse is growing.

WSB’s rivals are trying novel things to grow share. WUPA, which adds syndicated new shows from Queen Latifah and Arsenio Hall this fall, has the “CW Crew,” a band of grassroots marketers promoting the station at community events. Walsh and his brain trust are kicking around the possibility of a local sports show.

Fabacher admits he has some challenges at WGCL; one Atlanta TV insider calls the station a “revolving door.” WGCL started going live at 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, the same day it renamed its morning news CBS Atlanta News instead of Better Mornings Atlanta, though the 9 a.m. show has retained the Better branding. “We wanted to be more consistent with our evening news [brand],” says Fabacher.

WAGA has 210,000 Facebook fans, well ahead of WXIA’s 188,000 and tops in Atlanta TV. “Our viewers are very vocal on there, speaking freely on the various topics of the day,” says Bill Schneider, WAGA VP and general manager. “It’s a great way for us to sense what’s going on in the marketplace.”

The television business is flat as Atlanta continues to recover from its economic doldrums, though the automotive, telecommunications and restaurant segments are improving. “Nothing jumps out that suddenly sets the market on fire,” says Schneider.

WSB will hope to continue doing just that. “We don’t waste time sitting around admiring ourselves,” says McVay. “We just practice doing superior journalism every day.”

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