Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and cable television share a singular history. John Walson built the nation's first cable system there in 1948. Nearly 30 years later, in 1972, HBO ran its first program, a hockey game, to about 300 cable systems in the area. Without cable, the Wilkes-Barre–Scranton TV landscape would be bleak: It is the largest TV market without a single VHF signal. Why? The Pocono Mountains.
But the market remains a competitive one.
WNEP, the ABC affiliate owned by The New York Times Co., epitomizes "dominance." The station's 6 p.m. newscast frequently ranks No. 1 in the country in household ratings among Nielsen's top 100 markets. In the February sweeps, it scored a 22 household rating/39 share, outdrawing all other local stations combined. WNEP also produces newscasts for Fox affiliate WOLF. Nexstar Broadcasting owns NBC affiliate WBRE and runs the CBS station, Mission Broadcasting-owned WYOU, in what is dubbed a virtual duopoly.
Although the 53rd-largest designated market area (DMA), Wilkes-Barre–Scranton ranks 72nd in TV revenue, a disparity local stations have been working hard to overcome. "For a long time, the stations in this market did not sell the value of what television really is," says WNEP General Manager Lou Kirchen. It's beginning to turn around, she says, noting consistent growth in both total revenue and cost-per-point levels for advertising. Research firm BIA Financial Network projects ad revenue will grow just short of 5% annually through 2007.
On the cable front, Adelphia, the largest of about a half-dozen operators scattered about the region, covers much of the Scranton side of the market. Service Electric Co. encompasses most of Wilkes-Barre.
The region is a popular weekend getaway for residents of New York and Philadelphia. But the area is more than just a tourist destination. Wilkes-Barre–Scranton's largest employer, Techneglas, manufactures face plates for television monitors. Plus the region has been a major coal producer, earning it the nickname "Diamond City," for the so-called black diamonds mined. Still, the market suffers from lingering economic ills. In 1972, the area was devastated by floods following Hurricane Agnes.
"Economically, the area is just now starting to come back," says Mark Stine, a communications professor at Wilkes University. The TV stations are doing their part.