Cooperating in Cleveland

WKYC and WOIO have been in on a video-sharing agreement for almost two years, and the stations are urging the other two big outlets in the market to come on board. Like a sit-down of Cosa Nostra dons, the four general managers met last month to go over Cleveland’s rules of engagement.

WOIO/WUAB VP/General Manager Bill Applegate says the content share, used for planned events like press conferences, has been “seamless.” But the cost savings would be much greater with WEWS and WJW jumping in the pool. “It’s been a little slow getting the other two on board,” he says. “We’re trying to convince them to hop on—and hopefully they will.”

A contingent of Cleveland station department heads ventured to Chicago recently to see how the four stations there set up their Local News Service arrangement. If WEWS and WJW do indeed join the other pair—neither offered a comment— the Cleveland stations will consider installing a fiber link, as is the setup in Chicago.

Cleveland’s economic ills are well known— its manufacturing base has been battered, and the market lost more than 100,000 residents in the last five years, according to BIA/Kelsey, with a larger exodus forecasted for the next five. But general managers say business is robust. Automotive is up on all fronts, with dealer and factory ads on television and manufacturing in the region. Retail and financial services spots are way up on TV, too. “Last year, Cleveland fell further than many markets,” says WKYC President/General Manager Brooke Spectorsky. “But I think we’re doing better than many markets this year.”

Political spending is driving the rebound. Almost $30 million in political TV advertising MarketEye: Cleveland will be spent in Cleveland this year, according to Applegate. “The 6 p.m. news is nothing but political ads—I mean nothing,” he says. “I’ve never seen it anything like this.”

Local TV’s WJW won Cleveland-Akron’s morning, 5 p.m. and primetime household races in last May’s sweeps, and the Fox affiliate’s 6.6 rating/10.2 share at 10 p.m. was tops in late news. Gannett’s WKYC won 6 p.m. and was best at 11 p.m. in May—the NBC outlet’s 6.4/12.2 was ahead of WEWS’ 5.8/11. WKYC beat WJW in adults 25-54 in the late news race.

WJW grabbed $45.4 million last year, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of WKYC’s $35.1 million. WOIO-WUAB is a CBS-MyNetwork- TV affiliate owned by Raycom. Scripps owns ABC affiliate WEWS. Winston Broadcasting owns CW outlet WBNX, Univision has WQHS and Time Warner Cable is the major paytelevision operator in DMA No. 18.

Cleveland’s news crews are covering not only myriad elections, but an unseemly corruption scandal involving Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and the feds. LeBron James, who announced his departure from the Cavaliers in July, was in the news again recently following comments he made about how his departure was covered in the media. “I think we’re past that,” says Applegate.

Amidst the sharing, stations work hard to stand out. WKYC has an almost entirely new sales crew, headed by station veteran Leslie Pastel, and an ambitious online game plan that features a relaunch of WOIO has Nate Berkus and will take Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from WEWS in 2012. WEWS has a new general manager in Sam Rosenwasser, who succeeded Viki Regan in April. WJW added a 7 p.m. newscast in July, bringing its daily local news programming to 10½ hours a day.

Spectorsky says the stations do an exceptional job of keeping Cleveland residents informed and entertained. “We’re very local in Cleveland,” he says. “The Big Four stations really connect with the community.”

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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.