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A Hub on the Lake

With Pittsburgh to the south, Cleveland to the west and Buffalo, N.Y., to the east, the Erie, Pa. DMA "acts like a much larger market than its ranking [No. 143] would indicate," according to Louis Gattozzi, who runs Nexstar's WJET-TV and some operations at Mission Broadcasting's WFXP(TV) there.

Adding to the big-market feel is Interstate 90, which runs through Erie connecting Cleveland and Buffalo. By focusing sales efforts on entertainment and restaurants and looking ahead to the construction of a new hotel and convention center, the market is "trying to capitalize on the [highway] traffic," said Gattozzi.

Through operating agreements, four Erie stations are largely controlled by two corporate entities. Nexstar's ABC station, WJET-TV, is responsible for the sales and day-to-day operations of Mission's Fox affiliate, WFXP. Although barred by FCC rules from owning duopolies in small and medium markets, Nexstar and Mission share investors and have enjoyed operating efficiencies through numerous joint arrangements in several markets.

Meanwhile WICU-TV, the NBC station, is involved in a joint sales arrangement with WSEE(TV), the CBS affiliate. "The joint service agreement was set up to reduce expenses at WSEE," said Tim Noble, vice president and general manager of WICU-TV and general sales manager for WSEE. "The benefit for WICU-TV is that we are then paid a management fee."

Noble operates sales, commercial production, accounting and engineering at WSEE, while the news operations and programming departments are separate. The agreement was established when Initial Broadcasting purchased WSEE last November. SJL Broadcasting Management owns WICU-TV.

With the sales staff combined, "it affords the advertiser the opportunity to tap into two strong affiliates," said Noble, adding that year-to-year sales are up at both stations. "National is a bit soft although it is improving and local sales are doing well," he said. After automotive, restaurants, fast food, furniture stores, medical, and legal are top ad categories, Noble said.