Market Eye: Upbeat in Upstate

Grave economic ills still plague Buffalo, but GMs are optimistic
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Buffalo, N.Y.’s deeply entrenched economic problems are well documented, but the region’s station general managers always seem upbeat. This optimism is present in a batch of new local shows in DMA No. 51 that run the gamut from lifestyle to news to health and wellness. Seeing the success other LIN TV stations were having with morning lifestyle programs, WNLO last month launched Winging It! Buffalo Style, its name an homage to the region’s beloved culinary creation (see sidebar). Rival WGRZ has expanded its weekend-morning news lineup and late last year kicked off The Healthy Zone at 11:30 a.m.

The state’s second most populous city (it has 260,000 people, trailing New York City by about 8 million), Buffalo is an established market. Having roots in western New York goes over big here. “It’s a very stable, non-transient market with a lot of interest in local news,” says Jim Toellner, president and general manager at WGRZ. “That’s good news for stations, and for advertisers.”

Tops with the good news is LIN’s WIVB, which rules the ratings and revenue races. The CBS affiliate won the total-day household race in February, along with primetime in a narrow victory over Fox affiliate WUTV. WIVB also took a tight 6 p.m. race, and its 10 rating/ 18 share at 11 p.m. topped WGRZ’s 8.2/15. WGRZ, a Gannett-owned NBC affiliate, is a strong runner-up in key categories outside of prime. The station won morning news and took the 5 p.m. hour too. “We’ve really narrowed the gap there,” says Toellner of the evening news. “It’s especially gratifying, since [WIVB] still has Oprah.”

Chris Musial, president and general manager at WIVBWNLO, acknowledges the tightness of the local news race, especially in mornings, but says the duopoly’s deep market experience sets it apart. “It’s about consistency and commitment,” Musial says. “We have a very experienced team that’s made the commitment to the community and made it their home. Some anchors have 20-plus years of experience here, and people behind the cameras do too.”

Sinclair also owns a duopoly in WUTV-WNYO. WGRZ produces a 10 p.m. news for WNYO, a MyNetworkTV affiliate, which competes against CW affiliate WNLO’s newscast. WUTV has a somewhat unlikely star at 10 p.m. in Seinfeld. A dozen or so years after WUTV grabbed the syndicated staple, Jerry and his dyspeptic pals continue to attract a crowd in Buffalo. “Some nights it’s No. 2 or 3 against primetime [network] shows,” says Nick Magnini, general manager of WUTV-WNYO. “Seinfeld continues to draw extremely good numbers for us.”

Granite owns ABC affiliate WKBW. GMs in the market are curious how the 2012 shift of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from WKBW to WIVB will affect the local landscape. Time Warner Cable (TWC), the dominant subscription TV operator in Buffalo, has a YNN news channel that covers both Buffalo and statewide news. The channel, which launched two years ago, airs the statewide politics show Capital Tonight weeknights at 8 and 11:30. “We’re increasing our staffi ng and technological footprint in Buffalo to enhance the channel,” says Steve Paulus, TWC senior VP of local programming.

General managers say the economy is holding up OK. Buffalo did not enjoy the heady upswing other markets got to taste prior to the recession and therefore did not have as far to fall. Automotive advertising has been a rock-solid category in the first half of this year, and retail is robust as well—abetted by the influx of Canadians coming across the border to take advantage of a strong Canadian dollar. “The malls here are flooded with Canadian shoppers,” says Magnini. “When the U.S. dollar is strong, people go to Canada to shop. When the Canadian dollar is strong, they come here.”

Stations are also benefiting from former Congressman Chris Lee’s abrupt resignation in February following the scandal that saw the married man send suggestive emails (and an infamous shirtless photo) to a woman he met on Craigslist. A special election to be held May 24 is being supported by heavy local ad spending.

Buffalo stations are racing to get ahead, too. WGRZ has a sanguine multiplatform strategy, with Websites dedicated to high school sports and mothers, along with multicast options that include Universal Sports and the classic-TV channel RTV. In case viewers don’t get their fill of the likes of McHale’s Navy and Kojak on RTV, WGRZ last fall launched Lunchtime With the Classics at noon weekdays, featuring vintage shows such as Happy Days and Cheers and a local host filling in the blanks with trivia and tidbits.

WUTV has the syndicated Big Bang Theory lined up for fall and will pair it with Two and a Half Men between 7 and 8 p.m. “That will probably be the best 1-2 combo [in access] in Buffalo,” believes Magnini.

WKBW, run by Bill Ransom, did not return calls for comment. The station features an Eyewitness News brand and offers daily digital coupons on its standalone mywnyrewards.com site.

There’s never a shortage of news in Buffalo, whether it’s those brutal—and seemingly endless—winters, politics or the lively arts scene. “There’s always something going on,” says Musial. “It’s a market that values straightforward news, and a strong commitment to delivering it.”

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

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