While the rest of the nation is desperate for sun and warmth, viewers in Ft. Myers-Naples, Fla., seem to have a hankering for snow. Winter Olympics ratings for NBC affiliate WBBH were higher even than general manager Steve Pontius anticipated they might be—the station ranked fifth among metered markets nationwide in primetime Olympics viewing. Ahead of the DMA were Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Denver and Milwaukee—all much larger, and much, much snowier.
Pontius says he was “pleasantly surprised” with the 16.1 household rating/ 25 share out of Sochi. Helping WBBH’s cause was a robust lead-in from Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, and the snowbirds who nest in the Ft. Myers area and dig winter sports the way they used to dig snow. “The ratings were beyond expectations, and financially it exceeded expectations too,” Pontius says.
Sochi sparked WBBH to decisive wins in the February sweeps. But the station gets tough competition year-round from WINK, the CBS affiliate owned by Ft. Myers Broadcasting. In a station world increasingly dominated by giant broadcasters, both WINK and WBBH—the latter owned by Waterman Broadcasting—are locally owned by relatively small companies. The one owner in the market with a national footprint is Journal Broadcast Group, which has Fox affiliate WFTX. Over a year into the job, Charlie Henrich, VP/GM, says Journal’s scale means some leverage with syndicators, but the competition benefits from the TLC of local owners. “[Those] owners have a big checkbook, and are not afraid to use it,” he says.
A former Newport Television VP of operations, Henrich has a major rebuild going on. WFTX is almost done with phase one of a $2 million station overhaul. “It’s very exciting to see the investment Journal has made,” he says. “It’s a big, big project, and when it’s done, I think it will be a station that Journal will be very proud of from a facility standpoint.”
Pontius is an executive VP at Waterman Broadcasting, and WBBH has had a local marketing agreement (LMA) with ABC affiliate WZVN for two decades. Owned by Montclair Communications, WZVN shares a building with WBBH, and some video, but the two are competitive. “It’s ABC 7’s job to beat everybody in the market,” Pontius says. “It’s a different TV station that just happens to be located in the same facility.”
With ABC’s female-skewing programming, WZVN caters to women 25-54 with its 9 a.m. news and syndicated shows including Ellen.
There’s also a services arrangement between WINK and Sun Broadcasting-owned CW outlet WXCW. Sun owner Joe Schwartzel oversees both; he did not return calls for comment.
Located between Tampa and Miami on Florida’s southwest coast, Ft. Myers-Naples is DMA No. 62. Spanish-language options include Univision affiliates WUVF and WLZE. WFTX runs LATV on its dot-two channel. Comcast is the market’s dominant subscription TV service.
On the Way Back Up
Ft. Myers is clawing back from Great Recession doldrums, and doing so admirably; BIA/ Kelsey has it at No. 49 in terms of revenue, greatly outperforming its market size. “Tourism and construction drive the market, and both seem to be in full swing,” says Henrich.
Rental car giant Hertz has announced it is moving to southwest Florida, which Henrich calls “a nice shot in the arm” for Ft. Myers.
With that shot from Sochi, WBBH took home the medals in the February sweeps, with WINK runner-up in the key races. WBBH put up a 7.36 household rating/16.4 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WINK’s 6.49/13. The race tightens post-Olympics, but Pontius says WBBH’s consistency will keep it on top. He proudly points out WBBH-WZVN’s impressive collective news output. “Nineteen newscasts a day keeps you busy,” he says, “but we believe that’s the future of local broadcasting.”
WHAT’S WORKING IN FT. MYERS-NAPLES: ‘PARADISE’ FOUND AT WFTX
WBBH-WZVN aren’t the only stations in the DMA cranking out local product—WFTX has a year-old weekly program focused on all things southwestern Florida called, fittingly, Paradise TV. Airing Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Paradise TV is basically everything one might want out of a vacation—lots of sun, the sea, fine dining, fruity cocktails, perhaps a little time in the casino. “It would fit right in on the Travel Channel,” says Charlie Henrich, WFTX VP and general manager.
Hosted by the ever-sunny duo of Stephanie Summers and Carley Wegner, Paradise TV is putting up around a 2 household rating, which Henrich says is just fine. “I’ll take it compared to what we’d spend to buy a show,” he says. “It’s right on line with its ROI for us.”