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Flagships battle in the nation’s No. 1 market

With more than 20 million people and well over $1 billion in revenue, New York proudly claims the title of Nielsen’s No. 1 television market in the nation. And in the past year, WABC has pulled ahead of what has long been a highly competitive pack of broadcast networks’ flagship owned-and-operated stations. In November, WABC had the No. 1 newscast in the mornings, evenings and nights, both in households and among adults 25-54, the key news demo.

The station also carries dominant syndicated fare. It wins at 9 a.m. with Live With Regis and Kelly, which it also produces, and has enjoyed the boost that new panelist Rosie O’Donnell has given to The View. Already home to the market’s top syndicated program, Jeopardy!, and the reliable afternoon lead-in The Oprah Winfrey Show, WABC picked a new winner in the past year with The Rachael Ray Show.

The market took in estimated revenue of $1.6 billion in 2006, according to BIA Financial. Ad revenue was steady, driven by generally flat automotive sales and predictable Senate and gubernatorial races.

For the past decade, NBC’s WNBC has led the market in revenue share. But a recent audit by Ernst & Young has reportedly determined that WABC took the lead last year, thanks in part to lackluster ratings for the Winter Olympics on WNBC.

With the exception of Tribune Broadcasting’s CW affiliate WPIX, all of the stations broadcasting in New York are O&Os, and all air evening newscasts. Fox-owned WNYW led the 10 p.m. news with a 3.3 rating/5 share in November, beating WPIX and its sibling, MyNetworkTV station WWOR. As with much of Fox’s schedule in the past few years, however, everything changes once American Idol goes on the air. After the second episode of Idol’s new season Jan. 17, WNYW’s 10 p.m. newscast had a 9/14.

The fight is tighter at 11. In November, WABC led with a 6.2/11 household average, but WNBC, where Sue Simmons and Chuck Scarborough have been co-anchors for more than a quarter century, was close behind with a 5.8/11. WCBS trailed with a 5.4/10.

Univision’s WXTV and WFUT and Telemundo’s WNJU provide Spanish-language programming for Hispanic residents, who constitute 20.5% of New York’s population. Cablevision, Time Warner and Comcast are the largest cable operators in the market, and all run regional news networks. This week, Time Warner’s NY1 is entering the late-news fray with an 11 p.m. program (see Station to Station, p. 14).

As in most other markets, New York stations have spent the past year leaping headfirst into new technologies. In September, WNBC began broadcasting its news in high-definition and was followed by WABC in December.

The other stations, meanwhile, hope to follow suit in the next year and are working to refit their studios and control rooms.

Stations have added more news clips to their Websites, to strong results. After waiting to develop one, WNYW launched its site in mid 2006.

“It has been beyond expectations for sales,” says Lew Leone, VP/general manager for WNYW and WWOR. “The growth is exponential, and we’re selling every impression we have.”

The stations have also begun to embrace their digital-tier channels. WABC airs a repurposed local-news channel and a weather channel in conjunction with Accuweather, similar to Weather Plus, WNBC’s digital weather channel.

WNBC also has a hyper-local digital news station running on 4.4, which WNBC President/General Manager Frank Comerford envisions as the future of TV news: “We’re looking into doing a broader newsgathering effort that doesn’t fit onto the standard schedule. We’ve got to build these digital businesses and still serve the big beasts of the 5, 6 and 11.”

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