WINK Nudges Competitors

Locally owned station gives WBBH a run for its money
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There's a competitive storm brewing in the Gulf Coast town of Fort Myers, as upstart WINK is elbowing with longtime leader WBBH. The lone TV property owned by Fort Myers Broadcasting Co., WINK is the market's oldest TV station and is inching up in market share. The CBS affiliate upped the ante recently, rolling out high-definition local programming Oct. 20 (see Station to Station).

“We're accustomed to being the first in the marketplace,” says WINK VP/General Manager Wayne Simons of the HD move. “We were a little behind in terms of technology and really wanted to upgrade.”

Despite WINK's advances, it's WBBH's crown to lose. It's essentially a two-horse race in Fort Myers, with a pair of fiercely competitive—and very enthusiastic—general managers. WBBH won total day ratings in the May sweeps, and WINK won prime. WBBH's 7.4 rating/15 share in late news nipped WINK's 7.1/14.5. WBBH won 5 p.m., WINK won 5:30 p.m., and WBBH won at 6 p.m.. WBBH owns mornings, with a blockbuster 31.7 share at 6 a.m.

Though its overheated housing market is taking a hit with the mortgage crunch, the Fort Myers-Naples DMA remains a robust one. The No. 63 Nielsen DMA, Fort Myers comes in at No. 49 in terms of revenue. Fort Myers is located on the Caloosahatchee River, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico, and large waterfront homes are gobbled up by the extremely wealthy.

Tourism is a major economic driver, with Europeans finding their currency goes a long way in America, and the snowbirds start turning up from the northern U.S. around this time of year. Retail and health care are major sources of employment.

The market booked $113.8 million last year, with a take of $118.3 million projected for 2007. Waterman Broadcasting's NBC affiliate WBBH led with $37.7 million, just ahead of WINK at $35.3 million. Also in the hunt are Journal Broadcast Group's Fox outlet WFTX and ABC outlet WZVN, which is owned by Montclair Communications and managed by WBBH.

WBBH Executive VP/General Manager Steven Pontius is constantly on the hunt for new time slots for news. The NBC affiliate's 4 p.m. does very well, he says, as does the 10 a.m. on the ABC outlet that Pontius pilots. WINK is planning a 7 p.m. news, and Pontius will kick the tires on that slot, too. Adding newscasts serves a few purposes: “Syndicated product costs an outrageous amount of money,” he says. “As we expand news, there's less and less need for syndication.”

Both WINK and WBBH are pushing ahead on digital products. WINK has the News Over Wireless service for cellphones and YouNews, which sees user-contributed video a la YouTube. Simons says there's a new online philosophy at WINK: “We're not waiting to break news at 5 or 6 p.m. We break it on the Web.”

WBBH has found success in offering WeatherPlus not only on a digital channel, but airing it on the primary channel in overnight slots, such as at 4 a.m., leading into the 4:30 a.m. news. “That's been a wonderful success,” says Pontius.”

Both Simons and Pontius relish the competition, and the challenge of meeting viewers' digital demands. “This is absolutely the most exciting time in my career,” says Pontius. “It's a 150-mile-per-hour roller-coaster ride—I'm loving it.”

Next: Chattanooga, TN

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