Market Eye: Updatin’ in Dayton

Southwest Ohio TV stations invest in new strategies to chip away at Cox-owned WHIO
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WHIO is nothing short of a behemoth in Dayton, Ohio—with well-regarded newscasts, thriving primetime and full-throttle multiplatform strategy that involves a sibling Cox newspaper and radio station in the market. But the competition is putting resources into shaking things up—none more so than Sinclair.

Just about a year ago, Sinclair’s news and creative services moved into a new $8 million facility in Dayton housing the group’s ABC affiliate, WKEF, and Fox station WRGT, owned by closely aligned Cunningham Broadcasting. Last January, the virtual duopoly debuted HD news. In March, the rest of the staff moved in.

WKEF-WRGT general manager Lisa Barhorst is, in a sense, new as well; the former WDTN-WBDT GM crossed the street a year ago. “[Sinclair has] been able to make a big investment in the marketplace,” Barhost says. “There’s just so many resources available to us.”

WRGT’s 6:30 p.m. newscast, she adds, is a “nice alternative” to the network newscasts.

There’s an awful lot of new stuff over at WDTN-WBDT too. LIN Media owns the NBC-CW pair, and Joseph Abouzeid, former news director at WPRI Providence, took over as general manager in fall 2012.

WDTN last spring launched an advocacy brand, playing up its “Working for You” tagline. Abouzeid says it’s had a “tremendously successful” rollout. “We’re giving Dayton an alternative, and a reason to watch us,” he says.

The station also has a new news director in Denise Eck, formerly of WCPO Cincinnati.

It will take serious effort to chip away at WHIO’s eminence. The station often doubles and triples the competition’s ratings in the key news races. Its household share at 6 a.m. was a 35 in November; its 6 p.m. a 32. WHIO posted a 15.3 household rating/28 share in late news; WDTN was next at 4.1/8.

WHIO, a CBS affiliate, bagged an estimated $35.4 million in revenue last year, reports BIA/Kelsey; WDTN finished with close to $13 million and WRGT at $12.3 million. Julia Wallace oversees the market for Cox, which hits on all platforms; it also owns a news/talk radio station and the Dayton Daily News.

WRGT and WKEF are benefiting from owner Sinclair’s acquisitive ways, sharing content with sister stations in Cincinnati and Columbus. “We have quite a footprint in central and southwest Ohio,” says Barhorst, who mentions “one-stop shopping” for advertising clients in the greater region.

The LIN station pair has been expanding its presence too, primarily on the CW side. WBDT added two hours of weekend morning news and stretched its 10 p.m. news to an hour.

Time Warner Cable is the market’s primary subscription TV operator. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and scores of tangential suppliers give DMA No. 64 a military bent. The base includes the former Wilbur Wright Field, named for the aviation icon.

Dayton’s economy is lukewarm. The market dropped one place in the most recent Nielsen market rankings and is No. 66 in revenue, according to BIA Kelsey. “It’s holding its own,” Barhorst says. “We’re starting to feel a little bit better.”

While WHIO remains a colossus, the competition will continue to innovate. “It’s been a year of change for us,” says Abouzeid. “And there’s plenty of work still to be done.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN DAYTON

ALL EYES ON THE BUCKEYES, WKEF INCLUDED

While two stations moving in together usually means layoffs, the colocation of Sinclair’s WRGT and WKEF has resulted in about a 10% increase in head count, says Lisa Barhorst, general manager of the pair. That’s enabled the stations to do more local content, including a pregame show on ABC affiliate WKET for the ballyhooed Ohio State versus Michigan football game on Nov. 30.

Barhorst says Buckeyes games do “Super Bowl numbers” in Dayton—and the pregame program was a hit with viewers and advertisers alike. “It’s all local inventory—it was great for our sponsorships,” she says.

Sports director Nathan Baker hosted the pregame and Donnie Evege, former Buckeyes cornerback, provided analysis. Ohio State prevailed, 42-41. “We’ll probably do more in the future… no, we will do more in the future,” says Barhorst. “Now we have the staff and the facility to do so.”

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