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Beating the Buckeye Blues

Cleveland may have a robust news scene, but the economy could use a boost. Ad spending is down, with the automotive and telecommunications categories cutting back. Helping stations endure a soft market is the $40 million they took in during last year's presidential race.

In 2004, local broadcasters grossed $291.8 million, according to BIA Financial, up from $258.1 million the year before. Fox affiliate WJW was tops with $71.2 million.

Station managers are looking to regional development to kick-start the market. Several billion dollars' worth of projects are slated to break ground, including a $600 million medical facility and $250 million development of the downtown Flats.

“The Ohio economy has lagged the nation in recovery,” says John Butte, news director for ABC affiliate WEWS, “but Cleveland is on the cusp of coming around.”

About 70% of residents have lived in the area—Nielsen's 16th-largest TV market—for 20 years or longer, and often stay glued to the same outlet, execs say. “This is a stable audience with knowledge of the stations,” says Butte.

NBC affiliate WKYC has been the news leader in recent years but is losing ground to its rivals. WEWS is strong in early evenings, bolstered by The Oprah Winfrey Show and veteran anchor Ted Henry. Fox station WJW, formerly a CBS affiliate, has a long tradition of local news. In May, its 10 p.m. program had the highest late-news ratings in the market, besting even the 11 p.m. newscasts.

The biggest attention-grabber is CBS affiliate WOIO. Directed by VP/General Manager Bill Applegate (and until recently, Steve Doerr, who left to consult), WOIO traffics in hard-hitting investigations and crime stories. “We are a popular press,” says Applegate, “and we have a point of view.”

The other stations are making their moves. WJW recently converted its newscasts to high-definition. “It is good branding for us to be on the cutting edge,” says VP/General Manager Mike Renda. The station also added The Tyra Banks Show and Judge Alex.

In May, WEWS expanded its leading noon newscast to an hour. WKYC debuted a 10 a.m. local news and the talk show Good Company last week.

Cleveland's sports-viewing passions focus on football. WEWS airs Ohio State games and locally produced pre- and post-game shows. WOIO, which airs Browns games as part of a CBS deal, recently poached local rights from WKYC. WOIO carries preseason games and a weekly program with players and coaches.

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