The Big Easy's New Energy

NATPE attendees will no doubt attest that New Orleans—with its nearby coastline, casinos, hotels, restaurants, world-renown music and festivals, and a sense of mystery and romance that has fueled literature and film alike—is clearly one of the nation's great destinations.

Romance and mystery apply to Big Easy's TV market as well: Both the city's outgoing mayor and an outgoing city councilman are married to local TV anchors (the new mayor is a former cable TV executive).

Mystery? For some reason, the DMA's revenue peaked in the mid 1990s. It topped $111 million in 1996, according to BIA Financial, and was down to $94.3 million in 2001, a moderate 10% drop from 2000—the peak year for most stations and markets. "We tend to be on a different cycle from the rest of the country," says Jimmie Phillips, general manager of Belo-owned market-dominant WWL-TV.

"We had heavy political this year, and we'll have heavy political revenue next year," says Joe Cook, general manager of Emmis's WVUE(TV).

Being one of the nation's first developed TV markets, New Orleans has ranked as high as the top 10. It sits now at No. 42 and, in revenue, ranks a few spots below, at 46. Nonetheless, there are some big players in the local TV game: Viacom, Tribune, Hearst-Argyle, Belo, and Emmis among them.

The tourism- and convention-based economy has suffered from recent economic downturns and from the fallout of 9/11, and local civic organizations are trying to attract new industry, particularly biotechnology.

"So many positive things are happening. We've got a new mayor, new sports team [the former Charlotte Hornets] and a new energy in the city. We bounced back from 9/11 quicker than many tourism-economy towns did," says Phillips.

Automotive, health care and financials are the top advertisers, local executives say. The Gulf Coast, riverboat and other local casinos spend some money but aren't among the top advertisers.