Southern Boomtown

Stations thrive on local growth

Few local markets can boast growth as explosive as the Ft. Myers-Naples, Fla., region. The area has grown to be Nielsen's 66th-largest TV market, up from No. 76 in 2001. A steady stream of new residents is fueling the increase in the less developed Southwest Coast as well as in neighboring cities on the state's Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

“When most of the country is down, this market is up,” says Bill Scaffide, general manager of WB affiliate WTVK. “There is building everywhere: new homes, condominiums and two new shopping malls.” Another sign of strength: Average per capita income is $24,148, well above that of most top-75 markets, which is less than $20,000.

The growth is attracting new players to the local TV business. In December, Journal Communications acquired Fox affiliate WFTX as part of a three-station, $235 million deal with Emmis Communications. And just last week, Sun Broadcasting agreed to a $45 million deal to buy WTVK from ACME Communications. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter, around the time WTVK becomes a CW affiliate. (Fox's MyNetworkTV has yet to sign an affiliate in the market.)

The influx has been a boon to business. Ft. Myers-Naples ranks as the No. 52 market in TV revenue, according to BIA Financial. Affiliates took in $90.2 million in gross revenues last year, up from $78.5 million in 2003, the previous non-election year. Top advertising categories cater to new residents, including automotive, real estate and furniture companies. CBS affiliate WINK and NBC affiliate WBBH are evenly matched in revenues, each pulling in about $28 million last year.

WINK and WBBH are the leaders in ratings, too. In February, WINK won the early-evening and late-news races; WBBH finished second in the key newscasts and was No. 1 in prime time. WBBH airs the market's only 4 p.m. news, up against syndication queen The Oprah Winfrey Show on WINK.

WBBH parent Waterman Broadcasting also operates ABC affiliate WZVN. The two stations share resources but operate separate news departments. WZVN's late news, however, is No. 4 in the market, trailing WFTX.

Looking to increase its news presence, WFTX plans to launch a hyper-local, three-hour morning show in June. The station is also building a new set and remodeling the newsroom. “We want to give folks who watch our 10 p.m. news a morning option,” says Journal's VP of Marketing and Programming Jim Thompson. “This is a vibrant, growing market, and we feel we can have an impact.”