Vann, Staffers Get Their WISH

WISH Indianapolis has some ratings to parse since shifting from a CBS affiliate to a CW Jan. 1, and Les Vann, president and general manager, says the numbers indicate that the station’s considerable efforts to rebrand itself are paying off.

Dispatch's WTHR is a monster in Indianapolis, so it’s essentially a race for second place. WISH grabbed No. 2 in the 5-6:30 p.m. block, its 3.8 household rating ahead of Fox affiliate WXIN’s 3.6 while trailing WTHR’s 11.1. It was No. 3 at 5-7 a.m., its 2.2 behind WTHR’s 5.5 and WXIN’s 3.0.

WISH now airs its late news starting at 10, following The CW’s two hours of prime, and trails WXIN in that race. WISH is further off the pack at 11 p.m. with a 1.7, trailing all Big Four stations in the market.

But Vann is heartened by the first step. “We are starting 2015 off with great strength and ambition,” he said.  “We are extremely grateful to the people of Central Indiana for their continued support.”

CBS announced it was stripping WISH’s affiliation in August, with the divorce finalized Jan. 1, whereupon Tribune’s WTTV became the local CBS. In response, WISH announced it was adding 20 hours of local news a week. Just before Christmas, WISH parent Media General said it was picking up the CW affiliation in Indianapolis.

WISH has hired around 30 people, says Vann, though some staffers have departed.

Vann said the January numbers reflect the hard work of WISH staffers, including promos playing up WISH’s strong heritage in DMA No. 27, to recast the station as 24-Hour News 8. “Despite the doom and gloom, we are not going away,” he said. “It’s been extremely rewarding to see people continue to find us.”

While it won’t be doing CBS-type numbers, WISH is finding its footing in prime, says Vann, reporting that the station had the highest Hart of Dixie ratings in the U.S. Jan. 30. WISH did not, of course, have the Colts playoff games, which were on CBS, but it did offer post-game shows for those willing to change the channel.

There really is no rest for a former Big Four station making it as an independent or an affiliate of a junior network like CW or MyNetworkTV; the staffers will battle potential ratings erosion every day. But Vann suggests the hardest part may be behind them. “When we got through the first of the year and saw that the audience did not disappear,” he says, “it was a huge uplift.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.