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Competing with the scenery

Great skiing and lush forests make the Burlington, Vt./Plattsburgh, N.Y., market a fun place for residents. For TV broadcasters, though, that outdoor beauty has created some big challenges.

For one thing, people aren't indoors much to watch TV.

"It's a huge outdoor recreation spot all year round," says Paul Sands, general manager of NBC affiliate WPTZ-TV and its smaller sister station, WNNE-TV, also an NBC outlet. "So that contributes to lower HUT [households using television] levels."

Also, the mountainous terrain has prompted many to choose satellite service over cable, which cuts potential viewership: Currently, no satellite provider in the area carries any of the local channels.

With satellite penetration at about 25%, "one out of every four people doesn't see the broadcast stations," notes Bill Sally, GM of Fox/WB affiliate WFFF-TV. "Overall, does it hurt us? Yes."

However, stations in the market are hopeful that Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) will succeed in pushing satellite providers to carry local signals, which is one of his causes.

"He's been a terrific friend of the broadcast community," says WPTZ-TV's Sands.

Even with ratings lower than they could be, the region is popular with advertisers. The current national ad slump has made more local spots available for buyers, "so that's been a plus," Sands explains, adding that it's helpful that the area's economy has stayed relatively strong.

Still, WFFF-TV's Sally points out, Burlington/Plattsburgh is a "tough" and "very untypical" market, with broadcasters' having to cater to viewers from many different backgrounds. Two-thirds of them are in Vermont. The other third are split between New York and New Hampshire. Moreover, each of the stations is carried by Montreal broadcasters. With such a complex audience, WFFF-TV does not offer a local newscast, although it does hope to launch a 10 p.m. newscast within the year.