From Campus to Capitol

While many of its Midwestern neighbors have been hit by economic hardship, the Madison, Wis., market and its stations have enjoyed an enduring stability. With employment bolstered by the presence of the state capitol and the University of Wisconsin, Nielsen's No. 85 market ranks No. 77 in TV revenue, according to research firm BIA Financial.

David Sanks, general manager of CBS affiliate WISC, attributes Madison's steady economy, in part, to its lack of dependence on manufacturing. The consistency has driven station revenues, reaching $53.5 million in gross revenue last year, up slightly from $53.1 million in 2003, according to BIA.

Wisconsin was also a swing state in the presidential race, boosting the market's revenues to $64.5 million. Station managers expect an influx this year from Sen. Herb Kohl's re-election campaign and a close gubernatorial race.

WISC has long ranked as most-watched, with consistently top-rated news, including wins for early-evening and late news in February. (Because Madison is a diary market, results of May sweeps come out later this month.)

WISC also produces a 9 p.m. newscast for its UPN sister station, carried on a digital broadcast channel and on cable. The digital station will switch to Fox's new MyNetworkTV in the fall.

Still, WISC's rivals aren't far behind. Demographic ratings in the key newscasts have closed, says WMTV General Manager Bob Smith. In September, the NBC affiliate will add 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. newscasts and two hours on weekend mornings. Rather than adding new syndicated programs to the time slots, Smith says, “we believe more local content is better. And we own all the inventory.”

ABC affiliate WKOW tied WMTV for the No. 2 late newscast in February and produces a well rated 9 p.m. newscast for Fox affiliate WMSN. WB affiliate WBUW (a future CW station) previously aired a WMTV-produced 9 p.m. newscast but ended the arrangement last December.

In this university town, broadcasters complain that college students are not measured in ratings. Madison stations can only estimate their viewership among the 40,000 undergraduates watching in dorms, apartments and bars.

In early 2007, Nielsen plans to include students who live away from Nielsen homes, but only in national ratings.

“If they were measured, it would be a tremendous boon,” says WMTV's Smith, noting that his station's student viewers watch NBC sports, soaps and Saturday Night Live. “We get e-mails from them. And if their show is preempted, we hear from them.”