The whole of March Madness was consolidated in one market, and there may not have been a more logical home than Indianapolis. Beloved basketball movie Hoosiers was, of course, set in Indiana, and the state capital loves its hoops.
“Indiana is one of those places where basketball is king,” said Dominic Mancuso, VP and general manager, WXIN-WTTV.
Besides turning out for games, Indianapolis residents were eager to help with putting on the show and showing off their home city. “So many people are volunteering for things to help make the area look good,” said Lana Durban Scott, WRTV VP and general manager, in late March.
Baylor won the tournament, and Fox affiliate WXIN wins many of the news races. In February, WXIN easily won the 6-7 a.m. battle in both households and viewers 25-54. WTHR, an NBC affiliate, won the household race at 5 and 6 p.m., and WXIN took both titles in 25-54. At 11 p.m. in February, WTHR scored a 3.5 in households. WXIN and WTTV were at 2.2, WRTV at 1.7 and WISH at 0.8. In the 25-54 demo at 11, WXIN posted a 1.4, just ahead of WTHR’s 1.3. WTTV scored a 0.9, WRTV a 0.5 and WISH a 0.2.
Nexstar owns WXIN and CBS affiliate WTTV, closing on the pair in 2019. Tegna has WTHR, acquiring it from Dispatch Broadcast Group in 2019. Scripps owns ABC affiliate WRTV and DuJuan McCoy’s Circle City Broadcasting has CW affiliate WISH and MyNetworkTV outlet WNDY. WDNI airs Telemundo.
Comcast (Xfinity) is the market’s major pay TV operator.
WTHR is the legacy station, and Indianapolis insiders say the NBC affiliate does not dominate the way it used to. Budgets have tightened since Tegna acquired the station, they note. WTHR did not respond to requests for comment.
Tighter Local Race
WXIN has gathered momentum with a tireless approach to news. “Local, local, local” is how Mancuso sums up the WXIN-WTTV philosophy, mentioning nearly 90 hours a week of local news. The stations share a newsroom but go head to head in several time slots, including 5 and 6 a.m., 5 and 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
“We have legacy talent that’s done very well,” said Mancuso. “We also have new talent that’s done very well too.”
WXIN’s morning show goes from 4 to 10 a.m. and is a beast. Morning anchor Ray Cortopassi departed in September, joining WGN Chicago. “We’ve been very happy with our replacement,” said Mancuso of anchor Daniel Miller, who came from WFXT Boston, and previously worked at WISH.
WTTV became the CBS affiliate in DMA No. 25 in 2015, taking it from WISH, which shifted to The CW. WTTV anchors Debby Knox and Bob Donaldson anchored CBS Weekend News last May when the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan was shuttered due to the pandemic.
WISH is all in on local news. McCoy was born and raised in Indianapolis, and graduated from Butler University. He jumped at the chance to own a station in his hometown. He said the station’s 82 hours of news a week may be tops in the nation.
All Indiana is the WISH branding. Last year, the Sunday program All Indiana Politics launched. A 4 p.m. daily show, offering a mix of light news and lifestyle content, bears the All Indiana name, as does a local podcast network that launched during the pandemic. With some 250 podcasts, the network hosts local businesses’ programs. WISH retains the rights, and the podcasts boost traffic on WISHTV.com.
“It brings in new media consumers, and gives them a sample of what WISH TV has to offer,” said McCoy.
One hit podcast is homegrown. Year-old Daily 8 is hosted by WISH anchor Kylie Conway. “It cuts through the noise and gives people the facts they need to know right away,” said McCoy, calling the host “a true journalist.”
The 69,000-square-foot WISH headquarters will be home to Multicultural News Network, a venture involving Circle City and Cox Media Group. McCoy is aiming for a fourth quarter launch, hiring around 150 staffers for the 24-hour network. “We’ll aggregate all the multicultural groups in one network,” said McCoy, who stressed that MNN will be a network with affiliates and not a channel.
Al Carl runs the “News 8” newsroom at WISH. There’s currently no general manager, but McCoy plans to hire one down the road.
Sister WNDY airs an array of live, local sports.
WRTV has launched an over-the-top channel that offers users a mix of station content and Scripps programming. Durban Scott aims to evolve it to more local and less corporate. “It’s an opportunity to get content in front of more eyeballs, to get your storytelling in front of more faces,” she said.
Getting Hoosiers to Work
WRTV pushes a “Hiring Hoosiers” franchise that appears on air and online. The initiative “works to connect Hoosiers to employment opportunities, career development resources, training programs and educational paths,” according to the station.
“The company urged each station to come up with a franchise topic,” said Durban Scott. “It can be hard to get buy-in in a cynical world, but the staff is all in.”
Pharma colossus Eli Lilly is based in Indianapolis, as is healthcare giant Anthem. Residents describe the market as having a classic Midwestern sensibility — affordable, not much traffic, low crime and loads of decent people. “It’s a great Middle American market,” Mancuso said.
In terms of news content, they suggest Indy punches a bit harder than its weight. “This is a hard-working, humble town, a little bit rural, a little bit city,” said Durban Scott. “It’s market No. 25, but I don’t know that it feels like market No. 25.”
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