Viewers few and far between


In December 2000, when a tower crew was pouring cement for the new transmission facilities that Diversified Communications-owned CBS affiliate WABI-TV Bangor, Maine, shares with Maine Public Broadcasting's WMEB-TV, the Maine winter seemed to set in, and the cement froze. "We barely made it," recalls WABI-TV General Manager Mike Young. "The tower crew left, and it started snowing and didn't stop until April. I guess every market has its unique set of challenges."

But outdoor workers' challenges are local television's opportunities. In this market, HUT levels rise dramatically with winter weather, dropping just as dramatically when spring beckons residents outside.

Winter sports are big and helped Gannett-owned NBC affiliate WLBZ(TV) boost its ratings for its Winter Olympics programming. WABI-TV also is able to beef up its local schedule with college and high school hockey, as well as the more typical football and basketball. The University of Maine's progress last month in the NCAA tournament should help local numbers, too.

The small, low-density population is spread out over rough terrain that explains its unusually low, 50%, cable penetration. Maine's unemployment rate has risen slightly recently but is still below the national average.

Automotive, naturally, is the strongest advertiser: "A scarily large component of billing," a local executive observes. But, another notes, "not every market sells this many snowmobiles."

Gannett finds the state cohesive enough to offer statewide news several times a week, combining resources with Portland-based WCSH(TV), while reserving certain slots for "ultra-local" newscasts. "Maine has a population of just over a million," says WLBZ General Manager Judy Horan. "Any news in Maine is local."