Not As Hot-Lanta

Slump in housing, auto ads cools region

Local newsrooms were put to the test when a snowstorm blanketed Atlanta on March 1. Schools closed the next day as the city got around four inches, with significantly more in surrounding areas. WXIA received more than 3,000 storm photos from viewers. tallied 4.2 million page views that day (a Sunday, no less), and posted a whopping 12 household rating/23 share at 11 p.m.

“Snow like that happens probably once every three years,” says WSB VP/General Manager Bill Hoffman. “Snow events equal big ratings.”

Cox's ABC affiliate is the abominable snowman of the market's ratings. With its wide geographic reach and high story count, WSB won morning and evening news in February, and its 7 rating/14 share at 11 easily topped the competition. But Fox O&O WAGA, on the air 60 years, is a strong No. 2, and the race is heating up between Gannett's NBC outlet WXIA and Meredith's CBS affiliate WGCL. Other players include Gannett's MyNetworkTV affiliate WATL, CBS-owned CW station WUPA, Time Warner “superstation” WPCH and Univision's WUVG.

Atlanta stations enjoy well-established owners. “The market is very good,” says WAGA VP/General Manager Gene McHugh, “and competition is very strong.”

Atlanta, which surpassed Washington in the fall of 2007 for the No. 8 Nielsen DMA spot, is feeling the economic hangover that's typical of many growth markets. Managers estimate business in the market, home to Home Depot and Delta, to be down in the double digits. Yet there are bright spots. McHugh says some auto dealers, seeing that the factories aren't spending on marketing, are coughing up their own dough to reach out to a market with infamously long commutes. “People like their cars here,” he says.

Stations are extending their reach. WUPA has The Frank & Wanda Show, starring a pair of popular CBS radio personalities. VP/General Manager Steve Soldinger says the 11 p.m. show has changed WUPA's profile. “The station really looks alive now that we're doing more local programming,” he says.

WGCL VP/General Manager Andy Alford credits his station's emergence to new heads of news and creative services, and launching local HD in January. Meredith will make WGCL the base for its entire group's business operations, and its Eastern stations' master control. “That's the big thing we're working toward now,” Alford says.

As with many Gannett stations, WXIA is bullish on backpack journalism. “We're always looking for ways for our journalists to have more skills,” says President/General Manager Bob Walker.

Managers hope Atlanta's considerable attributes, such as a vibrant arts scene and world-class airport, help it rebound. “Atlanta remains one of those places that people want to live in,” WSB's Hoffman says, “and businesses want to migrate to.”

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