Market Eye: The New Face of Flint

ABC, CBS affiliates slug it out as market breaks from auto-industry past (DMA #68)
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Flint’s struggles have been endlessly documented. Michigan’s unemployment rate is near 15%, and the figure for Flint-Saginaw-Bay City is even higher. Dependent on the automotive giants for decades, Flint is fighting to redefine itself. “These are the challenges we face every day,” says WNEM VP/General Manager Al Blinke.

But Flint is getting there. Home of Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, the No. 68 DMA is betting big on alternative energy. Downtown Flint is going through what WJRT President/General Manager Tom Bryson calls “a bit of a renaissance”—a few new restaurants, industrial space turned into lofts and the construction of University of Michigan-Flint dormitories. “We’re going from zero students downtown to more than 1,000 in 2½ years,” Bryson says.

Meredith-owned CBS affiliate WNEM and ABC O&O WJRT are locked in a terrific ratings duel. WJRT won very close morning and evening news races in February, while WNEM and its Asking Tough Questions branding took total day ratings and late news, its 8.5 household rating/23.1 share at 11 topping WJRT’s 6.9 rating/18.6 share. WNEM won an even closer late-news race in November.

Barrington’s NBC affiliate WEYI won February’s prime, thanks in large part to the Olympics. Rounding out the market are Barrington’s CW outlet WBSF; Sinclair’s Fox affiliate WSMH, which gets its 10 p.m. news from WNEM; and non-profit WAQP, which airs Total Christian Network programming and local shows such as Ask the Pastor.

As with most markets that have been mired in economic doldrums, innovative thinking abounds. When the newspapers reduced their print schedules, WNEM grabbed revenue with Obit Michigan (see Station to Station, Jan. 11). Blinke calls the on-air funeral listings a “huge success”; Meredith is rolling out the model at its stations, and licensing it outside the group. “In tough times, you can’t rely just on spot revenue,” Blinke says.

WJRT airs ABC’s LiveWell HD digital channel, and its 4 p.m. news hit a milestone as it approaches its fifth birthday: It now ties new episodes of Oprah. Management envisioned the newscast as a No. 2 show but is rethinking its goals. “It’s one of the biggest stories to come out of here,” says Research Director John Swenson.

WSMH’s Green Team plugs environment- friendly initiatives on-air and around town, and the station will air the CANUSA Games—a sports competition between the U.S. and Canada—when it’s held in Flint this summer. “We’re looking for something where we can help the community,” says General Manager John Hummel.

Michigan State’s March Madness run, a growing film business, and hiring by smaller employers have residents optimistic. “For decades, Flint had an inferiority complex,” says Bryson. “But people have persevered.”

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