Hart of the Matter

With stations owned by top broadcast groups vying for a very sophisticated viewership, competition in Hartford is every bit as intense as it is in neighboring New York and Boston.

All six network affiliates broadcast late local news, and five carry local morning shows. CBS affiliate WFSB and NBC-owned WVIT are slugging it out in late news. WFSB won 11 p.m. in October, but WVIT took May sweeps. Strong prime times are bolstering the newscasts at ABC affiliate WTNH and Fox outlet WTIC. “Late news is a very tight race in the marketplace,” says Klarn DePalma, general manager, WFSB. “There are very strong competitors all vying to be No. 1.”

Local broadcasters grossed $196.1 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $172.3 million in 2003. WFSB claimed $53.2 million in 2004, per BIA, while WVIT followed with $49.8 million and WTNH with $42 million.

Hartford is known as the insurance capital of the U.S., but gaming, led by the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos, is now the market’s largest employer. Both insurance and the casinos are active advertisers on local TV.

The market is home to affluent and highly educated viewers, many of whom work in the neighboring cities and nearby ESPN headquarters. However, broadcast signals from stations in five other markets spill in over the air and on some cable systems, leaving local stations to battle in-market rivals and affiliate cousins. “We have five [markets] that people can pull from, depending on where they live,” says John Hitchcock, general manager, WTNH and WCTX. “We are diligent, but it’s challenging.”

LIN TV owns WTNH and WCTX, while Tribune Broadcasting operates WTIC and The WB station WTXX. Both Tribune stations broadcast 10 p.m. newscasts; WTIC’s is an hour. WTNH produces a half-hour 10 p.m. news for its UPN sister.

The LIN stations are more intertwined in the morning. When the ABC station switches to Good Morning America at 7 a.m., the broadcast moves to WCTX for a third hour. “It gives us great ability to push news on another platform,” says Hitchcock.

WVIT is courting local viewers in other morning time slots. The NBC O&O carries the market’s lone local show at 10 a.m. and, two weeks ago, began simulcasting its digital weather program, Weather Plus, at 4 a.m.

To serve the market’s fast-growing Hispanic audience, WFSB recently began translating its morning and early-evening news into Spanish. Univision affiliate WUVN, meanwhile, carries local and regional news broadcast by Boston sister station WUNI.

Amidst such competition, stations increasingly emphasize local news. Says Dave Doebler, VP/general manager, WVIT, “There is very deep-seated localism here.”

Next: Kansas City, Mo.