A healthy, stable market

WVLT-TV "Volunteer TV" General Manager Chris Baker loves SEC football. And why not? A December game in prime time—if the University of Tennessee is one of the teams involved—can bring the station a 50 rating. SEC football averaged a 17/39 last fall; the Vanderbilt-UT game did a 31/65, Baker says. And most stations in Knoxville, Tenn., need all the ratings wins they can get against powerhouse WBIR-TV.

Those numbers may be attainable this fall, but they won't be available. Except for Acme-owned WBXX-TV, no station in the market has yet agreed to participate in Nielsen's metered measurement, planned to begin in October. While Nielsen cites the superiority of meters over diaries and remains committed to making meters the standard in every market that can support them, stations complain about the increased costs and the timing: Budgets for 2002 were already complete when Nielsen made its announcement, local execs say. Participation will not likely come before 2003, if at all.

Local stations are preparing to go digital, moving their signals to taller towers. The rugged Smoky Mountains terrain that brings tourists and dollars into the market also provides favorable spots for transmission towers. "Basketball coaches always say," notes WTNZ(TV) GM John Hayes, "you can't coach height." Fox affiliate WTNZ, ABC affiliate WATE-TV and NBC affiliate WBIR-TV share a tower on Sharp's ridge, not far from WVLT-TV's; WPXK's will be on Cross Mountain.

The market is healthy, overall, neither overperforming nor underperforming; its population and revenue rankings are identical at No. 62. "Employment is good here," says Hayes. "Automotive advertising is good. So are health care, retail, fast food. As a Fox station, fast food is always a good category for us." Notes Baker, "The market seems to rise above the lows. It's not as prone to economic fluctuations. We in television still struggle to find good employees. It's a good market for employment."