Market Eye: Peachy Keen

Savannah has history, charm, nightlife—and a lively local TV scene
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Savannah, Ga., is one of the truly treasured American cities, full of history and character, and with a varied business portfolio that keeps the local economy on solid footing. When hewas looking for a new start following the sale of his former employer, WKRC Cincinnati, Les Vann says the combination of Savannah’s considerable attributes—he lists “spectacular” weather along with the aforementioned traits—and LIN’s foray into the market drew him to market No. 92.

“It was an easy decision for me,” says Vann, who started as WJCL-WTGS general manager in January.

While Vann turned WKRC into a market leader, he has his work cut out for him in Savannah. WTOC wins the ratings race by a mile and has done so for decades. The station’s total-day household ratings in the February sweeps were more than double those of its nearest rival. The CBS affiliate won primetime and the news races; its 10.2 household rating/33.7 share at 11 p.m. eclipsed No. 2 WTGS’ 3.7/7.9. WTOC’s share from 6-7 a.m. was a stunning 38.6.

WTOC’s success stems from it being “generational,” says Bill Cathcart, VP and general manager. Children grow up in homes that tune to WTOC, and decades later their children still do the same. The station’s talent features enviable tenure—anchor Sonny Dixon’s 16 years at WTOC makes him the newbie. Meteorologist Patrick Prokop has 33 years at the station and anchor Jody Chapin has 27.

For his part, Cathcart has 23 years atop WTOC. Producing seven hours of local news and information a day, the station’s community connection is second to none, he says. “We do far more community outreach—parades, festivals—than, frankly, the rest of the market combined,” says Cathcart.

Raycom owns WTOC. Media General has NBC affiliate WSAV, which features “On Your Side” branding. LIN gained WJCL in its New Vision acquisition last year; the ABC affiliate has a shared services agreement with Vaughan Media’s Fox affiliate WTGS, which got a boost during American Idol this past season from winner Candice Glover, who hails from Beaufort, S.C., about 45 miles north of Savannah.

Southern TV Corp. owns CW affiliate WGSA, which features one of the liveliest multicast strategies around. WGSA does not air news, but it plans to introduce a Thursday-night half-hour show in September. “It’s an entertainment calendar-type program,” Dan Johnson, Southern TV Corp. president, says of the as-yet-unnamed program. “It will be shot at a local restaurant/lounge.”

Of The CW’s primetime, Johnson says he “would like it to be better,” but the net at least delivers on its target audience. “We pretty much own people 18-34 in the market,” he says.

Vann is implementing LIN’s digital strategy at his stations and has expanded the sales management ranks. He says localism and commitment to the community are the cornerstones to making WJCL-WTGS bigger players.

WTOC pulled in an estimated $19.63 million in revenue last year, according to BIA/ Kelsey, followed by WSAV’s $14.1 million. Savannah stations collectively had $47.4 million.

The coastal Georgia market’s economic pillars are its port; the military; manufacturing; tourists drawn to Savannah’s beaches; restaurants; quirky denizens similar to those featured in the 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil; and history. “It’s one of the most historic cities in the country,” says Vann. “The city shows it off—and it should.”

BIA/Kelsey ranks Savannah No. 95 in terms of station revenue; Georgia’s pesky unemployment rate, along with the number of military personnel who are deployed overseas, continue to keep the local economy from taking off.

But Savannah’s charms drew vacationers even when the nation’s economy plummeted. “It’s like being in a resort every day,” says Cathcart. “We kid about it, but it’s ‘welcome to paradise’ here.”

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

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