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Going Mobile

Though Hurricane Katrina flooded downtown Mobile, Ala., in 2005, a post-storm influx of business is helping the Mobile-Pensacola, Fla., market prosper—and has given a boost to local TV stations.

And it looks like the area will stay active for a while. Because of Katrina’s devastation, some of New Orleans’ shipping industry has relocated to Mobile. And on the Florida side, two large Air Force bases, Eglin and Tyndall near Panama City, are a steady source of jobs.

Two years from now, German-owned ThyssenKrupp AG will open a $3.7 billion steel plant in Mobile, on 3,467 acres. Several Southern states were vying for the facility because of the impact it will have on the economy; ThyssenKrupp expects to hire 2,700 employees.

BIA Financial estimates gross revenues for the TV market at $102.1 million in 2008, well up from $91.2 million in 2007. The strong local economy, paired with substantial political advertising, made 2007 a robust year. While Katrina had a huge impact along the Gulf Coast, Alabama has offered inducements for business to come into the marketplace, and they are starting to take hold.

“There’s a lot of development on the Eastern shore,” says Matt Pumo, VP/General Manager of Fox affiliate WALA, noting the opening of a giant Toyota dealership in suburban Daphne, Ala. “There’s a lot of things shaking on the Alabama side—and we hope the Florida side will kick in as well.”

The market stretches for about 60 miles over Florida and Alabama, and is home to the fast-growing suburbs of Baldwin County, Ala. All of the major stations cover the entire area, but Sinclair Broadcast Group’s ABC outlet WEAR and MyNetworkTV affiliate WFGX are licensed in and work out of the Florida side.

The Big Four affiliates, led by WEAR, LIN’s WALA and Media General’s CBS affiliate WKRG, account for more than 90% of the revenue in Mobile-Pensacola, a diary market.

WALA handily won primetime in February, and grabbed the late-news title as well with an 8 rating/15 share at 9 p.m. Among the 10 p.m. newscasts, WEAR and WKRG tied with a 7.4 rating.

The evening news race is tight as well. WALA and WEAR tied in February sweeps with an 8.2 rating/17.7 share at 5 p.m., while WKRG posted a 6.2/13.4 and WPMI a 5.7/12.4.

Station executives in Mobile view the Web as the next major battleground. To bolster its online content and revenue, WALA recently partnered with new-media consulting firm WorldNow to revamp its Website.

WPMI was fourth in late news in February, and recently went through a radical overhaul of its news product after being purchased by Newport (it was owned by Clear Channel before). The NBC affiliate’s newscasts boasts new graphics, a new set, a quicker pace, higher story counts and a new anchor team.

WPMI General Manager Bob Franklin says the changes will enable the station to race with the big boys. “Before, we were driving a sedan,” he says, “and now we’re driving a Porsche.”

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