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‘Electric City’ Power Back On

Northeastern Pennsylvania features one of the great single station-viewer relationships in the country, and WNEP is showing no signs of loosening its stranglehold on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton ratings. The Local TVowned ABC affiliate grabbed more than 48% of the local revenue in 2009, according to BIA/ Kelsey, leaving everyone else to play for second.

"We serve the whole market," President/General Manager Chuck Morgan says of WNEP's success. "We have more newspeople and more vehicles to hit more counties. We connect with people because we are there."

Second place is a good race. Nexstar runs both entrants: its own NBC affiliate, WBRE, and Mission Broadcasting's CBS outlet WYOU. WYOU shut its newsroom a year ago, but Nexstar now produces the 10 p.m. news for New Age's Fox affiliate WOLF. WNEP had produced that newscast for years, until the end of 2009. Morgan says it was "strictly a business decision" to part ways, and WNEP now features a 10 p.m. news on its digital channel (see Station to Station, Feb. 8).

WOLF's primetime news is now an hour, double what it was in the WNEP days. It features WBRE's talent and branding, but WBRE VP/General Manager Lou Abitabilo calls it "more of a Foxified" newscast. "It expands our brand awareness to a whole new audience," he adds.

WNEP won total day household ratings in February, along with morning, evening and late news, its 11.0 rating/30 share at 11 p.m. besting WBRE's 5.0 rating/8 share. WBRE easily won prime, thanks in large part to the Olympics, while WYOU was second. Rounding out the market are New Age's MyNetworkTV affiliate WQMY and MPS Media's CW outlet WSWB.

Some $44.8 million was spent on television in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last year, according to BIA/Kelsey. WNEP grabbed $21.6 million, well ahead of WBRE's $8.6 million. BIA forecasts the total jumping to $48.6 million this year on the strength of a robust election season.

Local TV bought WNEP from the New York Times Co. in 2007, and the leader has been extending its reach on multiple platforms. More than half a million unique visitors check out each month. In addition to the 10 p.m. news on its .2 channel, the station has been doing a 7-9 a.m. newscast on its digital tier since March 2009. Morgan says the 10 p.m. program does a 1.0 household rating and both are growing. "We're working diligently on them," he says. "We're making great inroads."

Scranton is, of course, where NBC's The Office is set. The Times-Tribune newspaper offers an interactive Web tour of the city, pinpointing places featured in the comedy such as Poor Richard's Pub and Lake Wallenpaupack, site of Season 2's infamous "Booze Cruise." The Lackawanna County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Times-Tribune parent Times-Shamrock host Office tours. There was an Office convention in 2007, and a rep from the visitors' bureau says there are talks to bring it back. "We'll see if we can get another going," she says. "It would be wonderful."

The economic rebound in the so-called Electric City and surrounding areas started late in 2009, but it's been a rough few years as the manufacturing region attempts to remake itself. "It's probably the same as everywhere else," Morgan says. "There are a lot of folks looking for jobs."

General managers say the No. 54 DMA has considerable attributes, including an active outdoors scene and close proximity to urban centers. "It's two hours to New York or Philadelphia," Abitabilo says. "Big-city access with littlecity lifestyle-it's kind of cool."