It's always tough for a newscast to overcome a well-heeled opponent in a ratings duel. But when three stations are owned by large, progressive media companies, the race can be a nail-biter.
Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem, N.C., is such a market. Fox-owned WGHP has the momentum, winning primetime and late news in May, while the Hearst-Argyle–owned NBC affiliate, WXII, took morning and evening news.
Meanwhile, Gannett's CBS affiliate, WFMY, led the pack in revenue last year. While it was the total-day ratings winner, it saw its primacy slip in the most recent sweeps. “Every book is going to be a battle,” says WFMY President/General Manager Deborah Hooper. “Anyone can win any of the newscasts where all three compete.”
The Triad's economy was long rooted in manufacturing—from tobacco to textiles to furniture. While the area eagerly awaits what locals call the largest Dell computer- manufacturing site in the country, it's trying to break from its blue-collar past, and taking lumps along the way.
While it is Nielsen's No. 47 DMA, Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem ranks 60th in revenue, according to BIA Financial, a whopping discrepancy. But station managers are optimistic, pointing out Wake Forest's increasing presence in biotechnology, and a new FedEx distribution site.
Managers say area folk are mostly conservative, loyal and patriotic and take their faith seriously. “I think there are more churches per capita here than anywhere,” says WGHP VP/General Manager Karen Adams.
The market brought in $89 million in 2006, according to BIA. WFMY's $24.6 million was just ahead of WGHP ($23.95 million) and WXII ($20.6 million). Sinclair has the market's only duopoly in ABC affiliate WXLV and MyNetworkTV outlet WMYV, but neither is a major player. Pappas owns the CW affiliate, WCWG.
News Corp. recently announced that WGHP was among the nine stations the media giant is looking to offload. While Adams won't comment on the shakeup, she's committed to keeping WGHP's mojo going, which means sticking with the tenacious coverage of all corners of the 14-county market and beyond. A big part of WGHP's success is local experience: Adams is in her 31st year at WGHP, and News Director Karen Koutsky grew up in the region. “No one knows the market like we do,” says Adams.
Over at WXII, President/General Manager Hank Price is “thrilled” about the station's robust news performance in the recent sweeps (it also won at 11 p.m.) and says he'll continue to boost viewership with a role-reversal strategy: driving viewers from the Website to TV. He believes the product on wxii12.com is so strong that it connects with rival viewers while they're at work and converts them to WXII's on-air product when they turn on the set at home. “We're the leader in weather and breaking news,” he says of the Website's draw.
WFMY, meanwhile, is hardly sitting still. The station will relaunch its Website with more interactive features, such as public forums and user-uploaded video, later this summer. And Hooper, an area native in her 21st year at the station, isn't above overhauling news. “It's been 30 years of traditional newscasts,” she says. “We'll take a look at what viewers ask for, and why they're going [outside of television] for news.”
Amidst such competition, one thing is certain: WFMY, WGHP and WXII will continue to bring out the best in each other. “The television is really well done here,” says Price. “That's what makes it fun to work here.”