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Holding Down the Fort

The dynamics of Fort Wayne television changed dramatically when WPTA and WISE changed hands in 2004. Granite Broadcasting sold ABC affiliate WPTA to Malara Broadcasting, and acquired NBC outlet WISE from New Vision Group.

Granite's holdings in the market are substantial: Backed by Silver Point Capital, it not only owns WISE, but airs MyNetworkTV and Weather Plus on its digital tier, and manages Malara's WPTA and CW outlet, too. All operate under the “Indiana's NewsCenter” banner and share a Website.

Despite that lofty tagline, the competition says the shakeup has let them move forward. LIN's CBS outlet WANE has gained 9% in market share in the last five years, says BIA Financial, while WISE has lost 4%. “We were lagging behind a little in news, and now we're ahead,” says WANE Station Manager Alan Riebe. “It's safe to say some NBC viewers came over here.”

WANE and WPTA were virtually tied in total day ratings in May, and tied for the primetime crown. WPTA took morning news, but WANE won evening and late news. WISE, meanwhile, has slipped to a distant third in several key categories.

WISE President/General Manager Jerry Giesler said “Indiana's NewsCenter” was in the midst of a five-year plan to grow the channels, with progress being seen in morning news. “There's always a little bit of confusion when you change your brands,” he says, “but we've seen a huge spike in growth in the last 12 months.”

Nielsen's No. 107 DMA was long an automobile assembly hub; the Chevy Silverado truck is still made there. But the market has diversified, with medical growing, along with education on satellite campuses representing Indiana University and Purdue.

Indiana's second-largest city with more than 250,000 residents, Fort Wayne is referred to as the minor league sports capital of America. The Komets hockey squad of the IHL, the Wizards single-A baseball club, the Mad Ants of the NBA Development League and the Freedom of the Arena Football League team are all there. The Wizards are getting a new downtown stadium.

As the sports talents hone their craft in Fort Wayne, local TV executives say the market is a steppingstone for anchor talent, too.

WANE news bears the slogan “Coverage You Can Count On.” “We pride ourselves on doing a lot of reporting,” News Director Ted Linn says, pointing out that some 20-plus stories fill a half-hour newscast. “We're not the Chamber of Commerce—we don't spend time on silliness.”

Fort Wayne TV brought in $35.5 million last year, per BIA. WPTA led with $11.9 million, just ahead of WANE's $11.7. WISE earned $6.7 million and Nexstar's Fox outlet WFFT booked $5.2 million. Comcast is the dominant cable player, while Mediacom and Verizon FiOS are pay-TV fixtures as well.

Fox affiliate WFFT does not air news. VP/General Manager Bill Ritchhart sees the Fox affiliate as an entertainment option. Its hi-def facility opens this fall.

While some TV talent might only be passing through, others are more than happy in Fort Wayne. “It's a great little city—the cost of living is incredible and there's lots to do,” Ritchhart asserts. “It's a great Midwestern place to live and raise a family.”

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