Jacksonville is a quirky market, with its NBC and ABC affiliates in one building, Fox and CBS outlets in another, and an unaffiliated station (please don't call it an “independent,” says the general manager) as the market leader. Adding to the non-traditional nature of the No. 47 DMA are two new general managers in WTLV-WJXX President/General Manager Dodie Cantrell-Bickley, who arrived 10 months ago, and WJXT VP/General Manager Bob Ellis, with six months in-market.
Formerly the news director at WDIV Detroit, Ellis has been struck by the interest in local TV news in Jacksonville compared to the more fractionalized audiences in other cities. “The things you do all day are well received and appreciated by the community,” he says. “Television is still important to people's lives here.”
Ellis steps into a winning situation. Despite losing its CBS affiliation in 2002, Post-Newsweek's WJXT is the market's ratings and revenue leader. Even without network prime, WJXT won total day household ratings in May, along with morning and evening news. WJXT posted a 6.9 rating/10.2 share with its 10 p.m. news, while Gannett's NBC outlet WTLV won the 11 p.m. race with a 6.4/11.7.
Ellis, who avoids the term “independent” because he believes it implies weak news product, credits an established anchor team for WJXT's success. “People in this community have grown to trust and look to our talent to teach them things and keep them safe,” he says.
The GMs aren't the only new things in town. High Plains-owned CBS outlet WTEV, which manages Newport TV's Fox affiliate WAWS, unveiled a joint Action News brand and Website in April, and aims to have local HD in time for the February sweeps. “We've seen nice increases in ratings across the newscast since we launched [the new brand],” says VP/General Manager Jeff Whitson, who airs MyNetworkTV on WAWS' digital channel.
CW affiliate WCWJ was acquired by Nexstar for close to $18 million earlier this year. The station has relaunched the Website as YourJax.com and debuted the weekly local performance program YourJax Music. “The reaction has been very favorable,” says VP/General Manager Marc Hefner of the show.
Coming from WMAZ Macon, Cantrell-Bickley is instilling a new business philosophy at Gannett's ABC-NBC duopoly. “Customers are central to everything we do,” she says. “We have to reset and turn the business on its head, to some degree.”
While the recession has been a drag, Jacksonville has gained more than 160,000 residents in the last five years, according to BIA Financial. With a major military presence, access to interstates and water, and a young population, residents say Jacksonville is poised for further growth. “The market has had its struggles,” Whitson says, “but I'm very bullish on Jacksonville long-term.”
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