Bringing Their 'A' Game

Like the sculls carving through the river in the famed Head of the Charles regatta last weekend, Boston stations are giving their all to nose ahead in the news race. WCVB grabbed morning and evening news titles in May, but it was WBZ that captured an exceptionally tight late news race. Less than half a ratings point separated WBZ, WCVB and WHDH in households at 11. (WFXT posts a similar number at 10 p.m.)

WBZ President/General Manager Ed Piette says the win, WBZ's first at 11 p.m. in 15 years, is the culmination of a multi-faceted campaign. The station has shied away from overused “Breaking News!” boasts in favor of substantive newscasts. He oversaw a branding overhaul that brought back “WBZ TV” in place of CBS 4. “It's a flag that everybody can rally around,” Piette says, mentioning WBZ's long history in local television and radio. “Why wouldn't you want to be a part of the legacy and tradition that's been around since the '20s?”

Boston is enjoying an exceptional run of fortune in sports, with the Red Sox and Celtics coming off championship seasons, and the Patriots reaching last year's Super Bowl. The Sox reached the American League Championship Series this season, the Patriots are competitive despite the loss of their star quarterback, and the Celtics are a favorite to repeat. “The Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics totally captivate this market,” says WCVB President/General Manager Bill Fine. “This is the greatest sports market in the world—literally.”

The stations are no slouches either. The No. 7 DMA took in $486.5 million last year, according to BIA Financial. Sunbeam's NBC outlet WHDH led with $120 million, followed by Hearst-Argyle's WCVB ($110 million), CBS O&O WBZ ($89 million) and Fox O&O WFXT ($69 million).

WHDH, which claimed a 2008 Murrow award for its 11 p.m. news, has a new general manager. Former General Sales Manager Chris Wayland was upped last month, succeeding Randi Goldklank, who resigned after a tirade on a plane last spring led to her arrest. Wayland could not be reached for comment; TV insiders say he has his work cut out against the seasoned GMs here.

The local economy isn't particularly strong, but political revenue has been steady; that's somewhat surprising, considering Massachusetts is hardly a swing state. Thanks to revenue from ballot issues, some TV execs suggest political will almost double what was spent locally in the 2004 election season.

Tight competition brings out the stations' best. WCVB is testing interactive advertising with Backchannel Media and is “contemporizing” its blue-chip access program Chronicle, Fine says. Primetime champ WBZ partners with local bloggers through its Local Ad Network. Univision affiliate WUNI launched in June, its first regularly updated Website, and offers news cut-ins, called Despierta Boston (Wake Up Boston), during the morning show. WFXT, which launched an 11 p.m. news to follow its 10 p.m. program last November, broadcasts live from local high schools on Fridays. “It's great grass-roots marketing, and it makes for compelling television,” says VP/General Manager Gregg Kelley.

The general managers thrive on competing in a major-league news market. “Everybody puts their best stuff up day in and day out,” Fine says. “You have to bring your 'A' game every day.”


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.