Market Gets Makeover

Region steps out of neighbors' shadow

With an economy on the mend and a fresh leader in local news, the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina—Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem—is on the move. Nielsen's No. 47 market is “diversifying from a manufacturing economy to a more service-based economy,” notes Deborah Hooper, general manager for CBS affiliate WFMY.

Computer giant Dell recently opened a plant, and FedEx is building a regional hub, slated for 2009. Both facilities, along with new biotech firms, mean jobs and more support business. “For a long time, we lived in the shadow of Charlotte and Raleigh, but that is changing,” says Hank Price, general manager of NBC affiliate WXII.

The turnaround is key for broadcasters. Stations grossed $87 million in 2004, up from $80.6 million in 2003, according to BIA Financial. But the market ranks No. 58 in total TV revenue, due to downturns in the tobacco and furniture industries. WFMY grabbed $24.2 million in 2004, followed by Fox-owned WGHP's $23.6 million.

The ratings war is tight, too. In November sweeps, WXII won late news in households and dominated early-evening news in the 25-54 demographic. Since 2000, WXII has recruited new anchors and built a $1 million set, and acquired The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil to lead into early-evening news. But its rivals keep things tight. WGHP programs seven hours of local news a day and, in November, boasted the highest late-news ratings among all Fox affiliates. (In Greensboro, it finished second in late news in households.) WFMY won 6 p.m. news in households and finished second in late news in adults 25-54. “On any given night, any of the three stations can win,” says Price.

Viewers will not find any news, however, on the ABC affiliate. Last August, WXLV, owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, eliminated its 11 p.m. newscast and also ceased producing a 10 p.m. news for sister station WUPN. “An hour and a half of news each day was not enough to develop a presence in the market and make us the viewers' news station,” says General Manager Ron Inman. The replacements—South Park on WXLV and Judge Mathis on WUPN—are performing at least a rating point better than the previous occupants of their time slots, Inman notes. Sinclair is also stocking up on syndication, picking up freshman talk shows The Megan Mullally Show, Dr. Keith Ablow and The Greg Behrendt Show for next fall.

WXII will be challenged to widen its lead. Price says it aims to dominate the day's big story and win weather. But, he adds, “it will take years of effort to dominate this market because the competition is so good.”