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Hanging Tough

Orlando, Fla., gets high marks for economic resiliency. Home to some of the world's largest theme parks, the No. 20 TV market survived the collapse of the high-tech economy in 2000, a post-9/11 decline in tourism in 2002 and three devastating hurricanes this year.

Today, ad revenue, which rose nearly 40% between 1998 and 2003, is soaring. BIA estimates that stations will see a record $304 million in 2004, driven in part by heavy political spending. (They earned $279 million in '03.) "It's coming in so fast right now. We have booked an astounding amount of money," says Bill Bauman, general manager at Hearst-Argyle's NBC affiliate, WESH. Candidates will spend some $35 million here, nearly doubling 2000 spending, Bauman adds.

And there is strong competition for news viewers. The top three stations finished in a tight ratings race at 11 p.m. in May. WKMG, Post-Newsweek's CBS affiliate, edged WESH by less than one rating point (9.0 to 8.4, total households). But WKMG may have boosted its numbers with some creative accounting, retitling some of its newscasts on nights when CBS offered weaker lead-ins. The practice, permitted by Nielsen, allows a station to exclude those programs from its news ratings. Cox's ABC station, WFTV, was third (6.5).

Driven by a strong lead-in from The Oprah Winfrey Show, WFTV's 6 p.m. news remained a solid No. 1. WESH and WFTV dominated early mornings in May. Last month, WKMG imported former CBS morning host Mark McEwen and ex-WPLG Miami anchor Jacquie Sosa to beef up its morning show. With an Hispanic population approaching half a million, Orlando supports several Spanish-language stations, too. Univision affiliate WVEN, owned by Entravision, is tops in ratings, producing local newscasts at 6 and 11 p.m. Univision owns TeleFutura outlet WOTF. The Telemundo station, low-power WTMO, is owned by ZGS Broadcasting.

On the cable front, Bright House and Adelphia control most of the market. Bright House also operates Central Florida News 13, a 24-hour news channel. About 74% of TV households subscribe to cable; 20% have satellite.

Although stations are still tallying the money lost to the August/September storms, Bauman says, "the true notion of public service was never on better display than during that time."