With tremendous growth in its immediate past, Atlanta seems poised for more. "It's an inherently strong market," says Greg Stone, who runs WSB-TV. "It's a glamour market and a growth market. We were not immune to this recession, as we had been in previous recessions, but the market rebounded nicely.
"In growth," he adds, "we've been rising in market rank. We flew by Houston [now DMA No. 11], and we could pass [No. 8] Washington." Ranked DMA No. 9 in population, the market moves up a notch in revenue.
And because of the high-tech industry, notes Gene McHugh, who runs consistently strong WAGA(TV), the market has entrepreneurs who can adapt quickly to economic turns. "It's a resilient economy, with a can-do feeling."
For local television, that growth will mean money. In the past five years, Atlanta's market grew by more than $100 million, reaching more than $525 million in 2000. And, although it slipped in 2001, local executives say it came roaring back this year, aided by a strong political season that dropped nearly $35 million into local station accounts.
Atlanta has three stations that are more than 50 years old: Fox-owned WAGA, Gannett's WXIA-TV, and Cox's flagship WSB-TV, the oldest station in the South and the market's dominant station nearly all that time.
Time Warner's superstation WTBS(TV) is perhaps the market's most unusual entry and draws considerable numbers in local as well as national viewers for its carriage of the Braves, one of baseball's most successful teams.
The market for local television has been strong for years, with "one of the nation's finest ABC affiliates, one of the finest Fox affiliates and," says Daniel Berkery, who runs Tribune's WB affiliate WATL(TV), "one of the finest WB affiliates." In revenue, according to BIA Financial estimates, the WB affiliate took in quite a bit more revenue in 2001 than not only the local UPN affiliate WUPA(TV) but also the long-troubled but recently improving Meredith-owned CBS affil WGCL(TV) and is not far behind WTBS.