Market Eye: TV’s Big 3 in the Big D

Detroit local TV news ratings race tightens up as the market’s notorious economy struggles to stabilize
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One hears frequently of the Big 3 automakers in Detroit, especially when those nasty recalls happen. Motown features a Big 3 TV station scene as well. The local NBC, Fox and ABC stations all compete good and hard for Detroit news viewers, and there’s plenty of news in the market to keep the staffs hopping.

The combination of two winter staples—one beloved, the other not so much—paced WDIV to big gains in the February sweeps. “It was an enviable 1-2 combo—the Olympics and the winter weather,” says Marla Drutz, VP and general manager at the NBC affiliate. It was the snowiest January ever, a large number of Olympians live and/or train in the market, “and we were able to capitalize,” Drutz says.

Even when the Olympics—and the severe weather— move on, there’s no shortage of big happenings to cover in Motor City. The city’s bankruptcy proceedings are daily fodder for local journalists. There’s a giant business community—both related to the automotive industry and not. The city’s crime and blight are well-documented, but there are plenty of happier tales of recovery and rebirth too.

“Detroit is a great news town,” says Mike Renda, VP and general manager at WJBK. “There is always a lot going on here.”

Post-Newsweek owns WDIV, Fox owns WJBK and Scripps has ABC affiliate WXYZ. But it’s more than the Big 3: CBS holds WWJ, which airs weather updates but not traditional local newscasts, and CW outlet WKBD. Granite has MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYD, which Scripps recently agreed to acquire (along with Granite’s WKBW Buffalo) for $110 million.

WADL likes its status as both an independent station and a locally owned one. It targets African-Americans, but is not limited to them, says owner Kevin Adell. Shows include Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends, along with local sports including University of Detroit basketball. Adell, who also owns gospel network The Word, knows the challenges of being a small standalone and is curious about the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction. “If there’s a better use for our spectrum and the price brings value to Adell [Broadcasting], I would have to consider [selling],” he says. In the meantime, he plans to hire a new GM for WADL.

Comcast is the primary subscription operator in DMA No. 11. BIA/Kelsey ranks the market No. 14 in revenue.

WDIV won the major household ratings races in February except mornings, which went to WJBK. Last November, WXYZ won total-day household ratings and primetime. WJBK was its usual power in the a.m., while WDIV grabbed the early evening and late news titles, the latter with an 8.2 household rating/ 16 share at 11, ahead of WXYZ’s 7.6/15. WJBK put up a 7.9/13 at 10, but fell off the pace at 11.

WDIV used what Drutz calls “unique promotable content” to pull in “lighter viewers” who sampled the station during the Olympics. “We spread the philosophy [from late news] to early evening and mornings,” she says. “We think of them as sweeps stories, only year-round.”

Under news director Kevin Roseborough, WJBK cranks out a massive 63½ hours of news per week, starting with a giant 4:30 a.m.-noon block. It will add syndicated The Real this fall. WDIV last August introduced the news/lifestyle program Live in the D (see sidebar). WXYZ debuts Scripps magazine show The List this fall and will also add a new Scripps show at 4 p.m.—something live, newsy and as yet untitled. The station also focuses on the market’s recovery with its Detroit 2020 multiplatform initiative. “There are so many wonderful stories around that are not getting publicity,” says Ed Fernandez, WXYZ VP/GM.

WWJ has Steve Harvey and Queen Latifah at 3-5 p.m., CBS’ booming primetime and heavy local interest in NCAA basketball championship games featuring Michigan and Michigan State. “March Madness is great for our ratings and our revenue,” says Tom Canedo, WWJ VP and general manager.

Detroit’s economic ills are known by all; WJBK reporter Charlie LeDuff wrote a book on his hometown’s struggles called Detroit: An American Autopsy, which came out last year. At the same time, the suburbs are mostly doing just fine. Station general managers— tireless boosters for the market—say the overall picture is brighter. Auto sales are strong, which helps a range of businesses around Detroit, and the bankruptcy situation is helping stabilize the listing city. “You get the sense that the Detroit community is getting better— you feel it in the city and you feel it in the suburbs,” says Drutz. “People recognize that the darkest days are behind us and there’s hope around the corner.”

Reporters would trade a few crime stories for more upbeat business reports. Either way, Detroit rocks in its own unique way. “I think it’s one of the top five cities for news,” says Fernandez. “There’s an endless array of stories that present themselves. That makes it fun to work in Detroit.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN DETROIT

LIVE, LOCAL AND GROWING AT 11 A.M.

WDIV last August launched lifestyle show Live in the D, and Marla Drutz, VP and general manager, believes Live will show real growth as the summer months beckon. Ratings average a modest 2.5 in households, consistent with its Rachael Ray lead-in, and the live and local program offers a natural segue into the NBC affiliate’s noon newscast. (WDIV airs the fourth hour of Today at 2 p.m.)

Featuring musical acts and topical chats, Live can shift to a more newsy mode when the situation calls for it. “Being live is a real advantage—we can take hold of urgent stories that are happening in the moment,” Drutz says.

Live is No. 3 in its time period, behind the mammoth WJBK morning show and The View on WXYZ. Drutz believes it will pick up points in summer when the syndicated shows are in repeats. “I feel like it’s making great strides,” she says. “Is it going to get better? You bet.”

One hears frequently of the Big 3 automakers in Detroit, especially when those nasty recalls happen. Motown features a Big 3 TV station scene as well. The local NBC, Fox and ABC stations all compete good and hard for Detroit news viewers, and there’s plenty of news in the market to keep the staffs hopping.

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