For many years, there were a couple of constants in the Columbus, Ohio, TV market: WBNS was a monster, and Dispatch Broadcast Group was its owner.
Things change. In June, Tegna and Dispatch agreed to a deal that shifted WBNS and WTHR Indianapolis, along with the WBNS radio properties, to Tegna for $535 million.
John Cardenas, president and general manager of WBNS, said he “couldn’t be happier” with the new owner. “It means scale and leverage opportunities we may not have had before,” he said.
Tegna owns stations in Cleveland and Toledo. Cardenas mentions “content-sharing opportunities to cover the state,” including election coverage in the swing state.
WBNS is aligned with CBS. Some in the area wonder what being part of a public company, versus WBNS’s family-owned past, means for staffing.
WBNS, known as 10TV, has had a few challenges in terms of on-air talent. Anchor Jerry Revish retired in November. “My career in journalism has afforded me the opportunity to help write the first drafts of history for 45 years,” he said when his retirement was announced.
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WBNS chief meteorologist Chris Bradley died of leukemia at 53 in December 2018, and meteorologist Mike Davis was arrested in September for charges related to child pornography.
The market leader gets hearty competition from WCMH, Nexstar Media Group’s NBC affiliate. The station is focused on increasing and fine-tuning its local content. “We’ve proven we can create content as compelling, if not more compelling, than syndicators,” Ken Freedman, VP and general manager, said.
WCMH is also focused on connecting with younger consumers who may not tune in to scheduled shows. “We continue to look at ways we can expand there,” Freedman said.
Sinclair Broadcast Group has ABC affiliate WSYX and manages Cunningham Broadcasting’s Fox outlet WTTE and Manhan Media's CW station WWHO. HC2 owns Telemundo station WDEM. Charter Communications/Spectrum is the primary pay TV operator.
It’s a hearty news operation at WSYXWTTE. Tony D’Angelo, VP and general manager, said there’s about 70 hours of news a week coming out of the newsroom. “We’ve invested heavily in local news,” he said.
WBNS does not subscribe to Nielsen, opting for Comscore. Syndicated programming includes Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy! and Dr. Oz.
In November, WBNS won the news races and WCMH or WSYX came in second. WBNS did a 5.4 household rating at 11 p.m., according to Comscore, and a 4.6 in viewers 25-54. WCMH had a 4.0 and 3.6.
“We’re truly connected to the community,” Cardenas said. “We have a rich history of having the top talent in the marketplace.”
Tegna also owns Columbus sports talk radio outlet 97.1 The Fan. Much of what is discussed on The Fan is Ohio State football. The team had its first loss of the season against Clemson in late December. “We’ll move on,” said Freedman, “and start thinking about next year.”
WWHO does live high school football in the fall.
Columbus is market No. 34, but Freedman notes it is the 14th largest city in the U.S. “Being No. 34 belies the sophistication and forward-thinking” going on in Columbus, he said.
The Ohio capital, it is home to Nationwide, L Brands, Wendy’s and other giant corporations. “The economy covers all major areas,” D’Angelo said.
This lively market should see a windfall as the presidential election heats up. “I think 2020 is poised to be a big political showdown,” Cardenas said.
There will be plenty for the newsrooms to cover. “Columbus has really good stations and good operators who believe strongly in broadcasting,” D’Angelo said.
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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.