HD News Comes to Indianapolis Station

When Indianapolis viewers tune in for local news in November sweeps, one station may stand out in this news-heavy market. Next month, NBC affiliate WTHR, a Dispatch Broadcasting outlet, plans to switch to high-definition broadcasting for its local news, making it the first station in Indiana—and one of only about a dozen in the country—to broadcast local content in HD.

At first, WTHR will transition its studio cameras to HD; it plans to convert its field, weather and helicopter cameras next year. While only 15% of the market currently has HD sets, General Manager Rich Pegram says his station wanted to get ahead of technology: “We want to be first in the market, and we want to be the leader.”

WTHR is in a heated news race with CBS affiliate WISH, a LIN TV-owned station. (LIN also operates Univision affiliate WIIH, which carries local news at 6 and 11 p.m.) The two outlets have been neck-and-neck in morning and late news in recent ratings books, with WISH enjoying a slight edge. “Thanks in part to CBS prime, we have a good lead-in,” says WISH General Manager Jeff White, “and we capitalize on it.”

WISH also programs a 10 p.m. newscast for its sister station, MyNetworkTV affiliate WNDY. On Oct. 16, it will move longtime morning anchor Dave Barras to 5 p.m. news and switch 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. co-anchor Scott Sander to mornings.

WTHR, which boasts top syndicated fare such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, is top-rated in early evenings, and recently added another reporter and a dedicated executive producer for late news.

Tribune Broadcasting's Fox affiliate WXIN leads in 10 p.m. news, which became an hour broadcast in April. The station has shifted that newscast to Tribune's CW affiliate WTTV when Fox's baseball-playoff broadcasts run into late news. (WXIN airs late news after the game.)

“It is a good use of a duopoly,” says General Manager Jerry Martin. “We didn't want to cede the 10 p.m. news.” WXIN is considering expanding its morning show and launching early-evening news as well.

McGraw-Hill's ABC affiliate WRTV is No. 3 in 11 p.m. news and operates a 24/7 news channel on cable and its multi­cast tier with a regularly updated news wheel. General Manager Don Lundy credits ABC's primetime resurgence with boosting his station's morning- and late-news ratings: “We can see results across the schedule.”

Stations in the No. 25 Nielsen market took in $190.6 million in 2005, according to BIA Financial. Indiana does not have major state or federal elections this year, limiting political spending in the market, although candidates for a few outlying Congressional contests are buying some ad time.

“Relative to other markets, political just isn't a factor here this year,” says WISH's White.

Rather, say station managers, it's the healthy local economy that drives their investment in news. In sports-crazy Indianapolis, the NFL's Colts are a huge attraction, and the team is building a new billion-dollar stadium.

Also under construction are a new airport, convention center, and Honda automotive plant. The projects are already bringing jobs and investment to the city.

Says WXIN's Martin, “This is probably the brightest economic spot in the Midwest.”