Market Eye: Life at the TopIn a Buffed-Up City - Broadcasting & Cable

Market Eye: Life at the TopIn a Buffed-Up City

New construction, new general managers and a new market leader in Buffalo, N.Y.
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mmalone@nbmedia.com | @BCMikeMalone

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It is just about the best time of year in Buffalo. Its notorious winter is still several weeks away, the beloved Bills’ young season holds promise (especially after a startling last-second win Sept. 15) and the other local sports pastime, pro hockey, is primed to start too.

And while rumors of Buffalo’s economic resurgence have circulated for years, there is hard evidence that this time it’s for real: There are high-rise cranes looming over downtown and new park space and hotels are springing up along the Lake Erie waterfront. “There’s an energy that’s not been here in the 10 years I’ve been in Buffalo,” says Mike Nurse, president and general manager at Graniteowned WKBW.

Nurse is one of two new general managers in DMA No. 52. The longtime station manager and director of sales at the ABC affiliate, Nurse was upped July 1, following the retirement of Bill Ransom. Across town, local broadcast vet Rene LaSpina took over the top spot at WIVB-WNLO, LIN Media’s CBS-CW duopoly, when Chris Musial retired. “It’s rare to see two of the four general managers retire within a couple weeks of each other,” says Nick Magnini, general manager at WUTV-WNYO, the Sinclair-owned Fox-MyNetworkTV pair.

That duo made an interesting move in the spring, when WNYO’s 10 p.m. news, produced by WGRZ, shifted to the Fox station. “That’s helped us from a revenue perspective,” says Magnini.

Gannett Keeps Growing

WIVB was the market leader for years, but Buffalo station veterans say WGRZ, Gannett’s NBC affiliate, is now top dog. The station squeaked by WIVB in the total-day household ratings contest in the May sweeps, and also took the a.m. and early-evening news races. WIVB still wields clout: it won primetime in May, as most CBS affiliates do, and coasted to a fairly comfortable late news win with an 8.6 household rating/16.4 share, ahead of WGRZ’s 6.7/12.8. WGRZ, however, won the desired adults 25-54 race.

A strong showing for NBC’s primetime this fall will certainly help WGRZ cement its leader status. “Prime has been a challenge with NBC, but it’s getting better,” says Jim Toellner, WGRZ president and general manager.

WGRZ has climbed from No. 3 to No. 1, says Toellner, through consistency in the ownership and on-air talent ranks—not to mention the general manager post, which was something of a revolving door for years. WGRZ also assumed a position of advocacy for the community, evident in its “On Your Side” brand, and set about fixing one daypart at a time. Morning news was a huge priority, with more reporters added and, as Toellner puts it, more fun. When that took hold, WGRZ focused on afternoons, which got a boost when Oprah Winfrey left WIVB.

The On Your Side branding has worked. “We take on the problems of Western New York in a very serious way,” says Toellner. “The message seems to have resonated in the community.”

Cable Competitor Round the Clock

Buffalo is a Time Warner Cable market; TWC provides the YNN news channel, which features nightly shows dedicated to hockey and politics and is approaching its fifth anniversary. YNN Buffalo is TWC’s production hub for Western New York and, as Steve Paulus, the operator’s senior VP of news and local programming, puts it, “the place to go for local political coverage.”

Stations are set for the fall rush. WKBW re-upped with the Bills for three years, airing preseason games and pregame and postgame shows. WKBW also has overhauled its news content with a new set, graphics, music and overall vibe. “We’ve changed how we package, present and pace our newscasts,” says Nurse.

WUTV-WNYO is enjoying the expanded clout of Sinclair when it comes to syndication acquisitions. A double run of Modern Family bookends Community this fall, and Two Broke Girls is to arrive in 2015. WGRZ shows Antenna TV on its dot-two; Toellner is assessing multicast options for 2014.

The region’s leaders are intent on stemming a population exodus by encouraging young adults to stay in Buffalo. It’s anything but a transient market, and the broadcast execs here say residents’ deep roots make Buffalo a strong news town—there is lots of emotional connection with viewers, lots of ratings points up for grabs. “People are very much invested in the community,” says Toellner. “It’s a great town to be a news provider in.”

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