Sixteen years after filmmaker Michael Moore spotlighted economically depressed Flint, Mich., and its auto-industry woes in his film Roger & Me, the Rust Belt city is still struggling. Over time, General Motors, once the city’s lifeblood and largest employer, has sliced its workforce from 80,000 employees to about 15,000 locals.
The performance of Flint-Saginaw television reflects the economic hardships of this city. In 2004, local broadcasters took in $57.6 million in gross revenue, according to BIA, up from $53.4 million the year before. But Flint still ranks as the 74th-largest market in total revenue, almost 10 spots behind its market size.
“The challenge for us is to go seek new dollars,” says WNEM GM Al Blinke. “In a lot of markets, you can depend on the same advertisers coming back day after day. But here, if the economy gets tough, they tighten their belts.”
Like most markets, automotive is the largest advertising category, but it is not without its challenges. Thanks to its hometown ties, GM doesn’t need to advertise heavily on local TV stations, and for the same reason, Ford and Chrysler don’t either. About 92% of Flint residents drive U.S.-made cars, according to Scarborough research, so foreign automakers also don’t spend much time wooing Flint car buyers.
There is some good news. As the Detroit suburbs push north, communities are spilling into what is technically the Flint-Saginaw market. “It helps that the surrounding areas are showing improvement,” says WEYI VP/GM Jeff Gilbert.
WJRT is an ABC O&O in the 65th-largest broadcast market, and Meredith Broadcasting owns CBS affiliate WNEM. Barrington Broadcasting recently bought NBC affiliate WEYI, and Sinclair Broadcasting operates Fox station WSMH.
WJRT and WNEM are hyper-competitive, trading top ratings in news and other dayparts. In February, WJRT won early morning and noon news, while WNEM claimed 5 and 6 p.m. In the key 11 p.m. news, the stations tied at a 10 rating, but WNEM’s 27 share was two points better than WJRT’s.
Looking for an edge in the news battle with WJRT, Meredith bought a local AM radio station and converted it to WNEM-AM news radio. The station simulcasts all the TV newscasts, and WNEM anchors also broadcast on the radio.
WJRT is trying a different news play. Its rival WNEM gets big ratings running The Oprah Winfrey Show, and that talk powerhouse sets up its early-evening news to win. After trying in vain to compete, WJRT has decided to start the market’s first 4 p.m. newscast this July against Oprah. Says WJRT Program Director Sara Jo Gallock, “We think this is the right move, given our strength in local news.”