Paying the Bills

Buffalo roots hard for local economy and sports teams

Buffalo’s beloved Sabres may have come up a bit short of the Stanley Cup this year, but WIVB keeps racking up titles. The LIN station’s decisive win in May sweeps was the 24th straight book in which its major newscasts won their time slots, says President/General Manager Chris Musial—a six-year run.

Musial, who joined the station as an intern 29 years ago, says the key is the CBS affiliate’s “commitment to local, local, local. We don’t do gimmicks, and we don’t waste people’s time. We dig deep and cover the community.”

His charges are executing on that vision. The Buffalo market took in $92.7 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, and WIVB grabbed $27.5 million, ahead of Sinclair’s Fox affiliate WUTV ($20.3 million), Gannett’s NBC outlet WGRZ ($20 million) and Granite’s ABC affiliate WKBW ($16.3 million). LIN also owns CW affiliate WNLO; Sinclair, the MyNetworkTV outlet WNYO.

As it attempts to transition from a manufacturing center to such industries as medical services, Buffalo’s struggles have been well-documented; the word station managers opt for is “challenging.” Buffalo is Nielsen’s No. 49 DMA but ranks just 57th in terms of revenue.

A boomtown in the first half of the last century, Buffalo still has the infrastructure of a metropolis, with pro sports (local folk are famously devoted to the Bills and Sabres), museums and culture, even if much of the big-city population has largely vanished (the DMA has 1.63 million people, down from 1.65 million five years earlier). One station executive mentions how Buffalo was DMA No. 28 when he came to work a quarter century ago.

General managers say the economy has stabilized, but things are anything but rosy. “It’s still a Northeastern city,” says WUTV/WNYO General Manager Nick Magnini. “It’s a challenge no matter how you cut it.”

The stations are innovating in an attempt to dethrone WIVB. WGRZ, which won total-day ratings, is making its play on the Web, with new microsites dedicated to women and high school athletics. With a working title “Western N.Y. High School Sports,” the jock outlet will launch in September. It will offer scores, schedules and rosters and encourage users to post game video. “We want to be the place to go for high school sports information,” says President/General Manager Jim Toellner.

Over at the Sinclair duopoly, Magnini has seen robust growth on WNYO’s 10 p.m. news (a share with WGRZ) since its launch in spring 2006. The Fox affiliate does not do news; Seinfeld airs at 10 p.m. American Idol does particularly large numbers, which Magnini attributes to working folk who like to see others succeed through hard work.

House is huge, too. “It just kicked butt [in May],” he says, “keeping or even exceeding its Idol lead-in.”

WKBW, meanwhile, celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. It continues to play up its local presence, most notably with its telethon to benefit Women’s & Children’s Hospital, which the station has done nearly as long as it has been on-air. “Our strength is our connection to the community,” says Program Director John DiSciullo. “If something happens in the community, it’s on our air.”

WKBW has the market’s top-rated program in Grey’s Anatomy, but WIVB has almost everything else. It’s a dream come true for Musial: “I’m just lucky to help grow the station I grew up watching.”