Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but Providence has a big rep. The eponymous NBC series portrayed the city in "soft and glowing tones," reports the chamber of commerce. But fantasy pulled out in 2002, and scandal moved in. First came the conviction of longtime Mayor Vincent Cianci on racketeering charges. Then a pyrotechnic stage show at a nightclub went awry, sparking a fire that killed 100 people.
But bad press hasn't derailed its stable citizenry. Ranked No. 48 by Nielsen Media Research, Providence boasts a diverse economy, driven by education, medical tech, and electronics. It was twice named "Best City to Live in the East" by Money.
The market is a challenge for broadcasters, however, since coverage spans two states. One-third of the population lives in Massachusetts. Translation: Their Boston competitors suck away 13 share points. Market ad revenue is cyclical, spiking in election years. "We get political money out of Massachusetts and Rhode Island," says WJAR General Manager Lisa Churchville. BIA Research estimates TV ad revenue will reach $90 million this year, about even with 2000 and 2002.
As the market leader, NBC's WJAR grabs the lion's share. Its evening newscasts draw more viewers than No. 2 WPRI and No. 3 WLNE combined.
Providence-based LIN Television owns WPRI and operates Fox affiliate WNAC under a local marketing agreement. It invests heavily in its news ops and reaps the benefit of the stations' demographic disparity. Notes LIN President and CEO Gary Chapman, "We can sell Mercedes and Buicks on one station, soda and movies on the other."
Saddled with ABC's weak prime time lineup, Freedom Communications-owned WLNE runs a distant third, which may explain the presence of new General Manager Roland Adeszko. The station offers limited local news, although it produces content for Rhode Island News Channel, a joint project with cable operator Cox.
Viacom's WLWC carries programming from both UPN and The WB but no local news. The station is a de facto satellite of Boston's WBZ. As for cable, more than 80% of households subscribe. DirecTV and Dish Network offer local channels via satellite. Providence's other claim to fame is Ivy League Brown University. Says Chapman, "This is a Renaissance city."