There are hyphenated markets, and then there’s Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York in south-central Pennsylvania. DMA No. 39 is one of the rare fourcity markets in the U.S., and station general managers say it can be tricky to cover. “The cities are not real close to each other,” notes Joseph Lewin, WHTM president/general manager. “It’s a real challenge for news coverage, promotions and sales, but that’s life in a hyphenated market.”
The market’s wide geographic spread offers an equally broad array of landscape, from the Pennsylvania capital of Harrisburg to traditional suburbs to the rolling farmlands and Amish country that draw tourists to the craft shops and restaurants. “It’s wonderful, postcard scenery,” says Paul Quinn, WGAL president/general manager, “especially in spring and fall.”
WGAL puts up picturesque ratings numbers— Quinn notes the Hearst TV station is No. 1 among top 50 market stations in household share at 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., and has been for years. The NBC affiliate had a pretty typical May sweeps (it’s a Nielsen diary market, so November sweeps results won’t be available for some time), winning total-day household ratings and morning, early evening and late news. WGAL put up a 7 HH rating/25 share at 11 p.m.—way ahead of Allbritton-owned ABC affiliate WHTM’s 3/12. (Fox affiliate WPMT, owned by Tribune, posted a 6 rating/13 share with its 10 p.m. news.) Newport TV’s CBS affiliate, WHP, virtually split the primetime ratings title with WPMT.
Quinn says WGAL’s news success comes from a combination of robust investigative work, tireless community service and anchor longevity. “It’s a million things, not one,” he says. “Our anchors are seen as members of many viewers’ families, invited into their living rooms and bedrooms, trusted to give them news in a straightforward manner.”
Lancaster-based WGAL’s 2009 revenue haul was $28 million, according to BIA/Kelsey, well ahead of WHTM’s $15.4 million. Other players in the market include Nexstar’s CW outlet WLYH, managed by WHP; and independent WGCB, owned by the John Norris Estate. Airing the likes of Happy Days and Hogan’s Heroes, WGCB bills itself “Family 49” and uses the cheery tagline “It’s All Good!” WHP airs MyNetworkTV programming on its .2 channel, while Universal Sports airs on WGCB’s channel 49.2.
The market is home to numerous manufacturing concerns, including one of Harley-Davidson’s three U.S. plants, and an array of snack-food vendors, including Utz and Snyder’s of Hanover. Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon- York retains much of its agricultural past, and has a growing health care presence. That range of economic drivers helped Harrisburg-Lancaster survive the recession in decent shape. “As an economically diverse market, it’s less susceptible to booms and busts,” says Holly Steuart, WHP VP/general manager. “It’s not recessionproof, but maybe it’s recession-resistant.”
Stations are innovating to grab ratings points. WHP is playing up its breaking-news brand and enjoying the support of owner Newport, which acquired the former Clear Channel TV stations in 2007. The Harrisburgbased outlet has bureaus in Lancaster and York, giving it greater coverage. “Under the previous ownership, the station didn’t cover the whole market,” says Steuart. “It’s not how you win in this market.”
WHP indeed won the Mid-Atlantic Emmy for best medium-market newscast in September.
WPMT this month fl ips on the only local high-def newscast; a year ago, the station introduced 6:30 and 11 p.m. newscasts a year ago, for a total 32 hours of weekly local news. The 11 p.m. program offers interactive elements. “Anchors are mousing around, responding directly to viewers’ questions,” says Larry Delia, WPMT VP/general manager.
In September, WHTM and WGAL debuted 4:30 a.m. newscasts on the same day. A month earlier, WGAL launched a 6-7 a.m. weekend news. The station is set to switch to a 16 X 9 format, and Quinn says HD will likely follow in the first quarter. WLYW added 10 p.m. newscasts to weekends in September, giving the outlet seven nights a week of primetime news. Next year, the station will pair The Big Bang Theory with How I Met Your Mother in syndication.
The stations fight it out on the Web as well. WGAL.com invites users to receive breaking news headlines on their mobile phones and taps the “u local” program for user-generated photos and video. WHP offers PARewards. com, an incentive program in which viewers type in keywords they see on air and redeem points for everything from a Sony PlayStation 3 to admission at Hershey Gardens. Steuart likens PA Rewards to an airline’s frequent-flier program. “It’s been a very good secondary revenue source for us,” she says.
WHTM’s abc27.com features political news from Politico.com, and WPMT has a lively social media presence, including a Twitter widget on the fox43.com homepage that shows the latest tweets from the news team. The station also plays up its “Add One Job” employment growth campaign (see sidebar) on the homepage.
All those hyphens can be a challenge, but general managers at the four cities’ stations say the region offers great access to major markets—and some neat things within its own borders too. “It’s a very welcoming and friendly part of the country,” says Lewin. “I’ve never been any place where people are so supportive.”
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