No TV market has had a quiet news cycle in 2020, and the Cincinnati stations have been all over the pandemic and civil rights protests, finding the local angles and serving them up to viewers.
“It’s been a bit of a blur,” Branden Frantz, WLWT president and general manager, said.
CBS affiliate WKRC has long been the Nielsen behemoth, but Cincy insiders say things are changing. Sinclair Broadcast Group bought WKRC, known as Local 12, from Newport Television in 2012. Sinclair also owns the Cincy CW and MyNetworkTV stations. Market veterans said key talent has departed WKRC. Station management did not return calls for comment.
Hearst Television owns NBC outlet WLWT. Scripps has ABC affiliate WCPO. Gray Television has Fox affiliate WXIX. Charter Communications is the dominant pay TV operator in DMA No. 37.
The stations are hustling to get ahead. WLWT introduced a new news set in mid-May, which Frantz acknowledged was “way overdue.” He noted lots more presentation areas, and a local feel, including the Roebling Bridge that extends over the Ohio River and links Ohio to Kentucky. (A good chunk of the DMA is based in northern Kentucky.)
“It has a very warm, rich, deep feel to it,” said Frantz.
WXIX has been adding loads of local news. Last year, it premiered an 11 p.m. newscast. In January, WXIX tacked on 5 and 6 p.m. news. “The timing was good,” said Debbie Bush, VP and general manager, of the giant stories that followed.
WXIX does just over 11 hours of news a day. Mornings go 4:30 to 11 a.m. “We call it a monster,” said Bush.
Accentuating the Positive
With so much anxiety in the news, WCPO is making a point of sharing the positive stuff with viewers. Scripps program Good to Know focuses on the good, as do local segments under the title “Acts of Kindness.” One story saw viewers help out a mother of six who was facing eviction. “It’s local people helping each other,” VP and general manager Jeff Brogan said.
As is happening in many markets this year, stations have agreed to send a lone crew to a press conference, then share footage. The stations continue to let people work from home amidst the pandemic. “We’re taking it slow, being very conservative,” Bush said. “There’s no need to rush in terms of bringing people back.”
The ratings race is hot. At 6-7 a.m. in February, WKRC won households and WLWT and WXIX split the viewers 25-54 derby. At 5 and 6 p.m., WKRC won both households and the demo. (WKRC had a 1.8 in the demo at 6, ahead of WCPO’s 1.7 and WLWT’s 1.6.) At 11 p.m. Monday-Friday in February, WKRC took households with a 5.3, ahead of WLWT’s 4.6. WKRC and WLTW split the 25-54 title at 1.8, with WXIX at 1.4 and WCPO at 1.3. WKRC wins prime. WLWT is the digital powerhouse.
The stations continue to push. WLWT works with local food pantries as part of Hearst TV’s Project CommUNITY initiative. “There’s significant need in this community for support,” said Frantz.
WXIX news leaders are contemplating new programming related to Black Lives Matter.
WCPO’s “We’re Open Cincinnati” segments promote local business in these tough times.
Station business is solid. The news players enjoyed a largesse from both the Ohio and Kentucky primaries, and the presidential race looks promising. “We are expecting a good uptick in political coming up in fall,” Brogan said. “Ohio is back as a swing state.”
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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.