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High Gear

Start your engines. The Indianapolis 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in America—and it's representative of a market on the move. Once mocked as "India-no-place," the city has transformed itself into a sports mecca. The No. 25 TV market is home to the Pacers basketball team, the NFL Colts, and HQ of the Black Coaches Association.

Makeover madness has hit the stations, too. Top-ranked WTHR, the NBC affiliate, has undergone a substantial transformation from No. 3. News Director Jacques Natz credits a combination of factors: coverage of weather and breaking news, a commitment to year-round investigative reports, and owner Dispatch Broadcast Group's investment in programming.

"You combine that with a company that gets Dr. Phil, Oprah, and Jeopardy
and add a network that knows how to deliver prime time lead-ins, and that's a strong setup," Natz says. WTHR also operates Pax Network affiliate WIPX and produces a 10 p.m. newscast for Viacom UPN station WNDY.

Former market leader WISH, owned by LIN Television, has also spruced up. It employs the market's longest-running evening anchor team—Mike Ahern and Debby Knox—but recently transformed its lagging 5 p.m. newscast. WISH implemented rotating anchors, including one in the newsroom who interviews reporters as they prepare stories. Will viewers embrace the concept? The jury is still out, says news consultant Rick Gevers.

The market's good news is ad revenue.

TV broadcasters expect it to rise about 8.4% in 2004 to an estimated $203 million, reports BIA Financial Network.

Ironically, in a spend-o-rama election year, Indiana is not getting big political bucks. "There are about 19 "swing" states in the presidential race," says Phil Paligraf, vice president of cable interconnect company Spotlight Indianapolis. "We fall about No. 21." And it's not just the political ad bonanza where the market lags.

Cable has also had its share of woes—only 62% of households receive it. Comcast is the major operator and manages Spotlight Indianapolis. Despite fairly low cable penetration, when the interconnect came online two years ago, cable ad sales took off. "Over the last couple of years," reports Paligraf, "we have grown revenue in the 20% annual range."

Indianapolis is shifting into high gear.