If You Can Make It There

In New York City, the country's largest TV market, no one station gets all of the Big Apple. WABC reigns as most-watched sign-on to sign-off. Thanks partly to powerhouse lead-in The Oprah Winfrey Show, it also claims best early-evening-news ratings. Later on, though, NBC flagship WNBC takes over, leading rivals in late news in households and the key 25-54 demo. WNBC and WABC are neck and neck in morning news, tying in May.

And none of these leadership positions are safe. WABC is nipping at WNBC's lead at 11 p.m., and No. 3 WCBS is rebuilding its late news and improving. Of the 10 p.m. newscasts, Fox station WNYW is tops, followed by sister UPN affiliate WWOR and The WB station WPIX.

Univision-owned WXTV and WFUT and NBC's WNJU cater to the market's 18% Hispanic population. Cablevision and Time Warner are the major cable operators, and each operates a regional cable news network.

Amidst the competition, New York stations are still learning to cope with Nielsen's new local-people-meter ratings system, which hit New York in April 2004 (see related story, opposite page).

To increase market share, some stations are turning to other platforms. “If we continue to rely on traditional business, there is no growth in our business,” says WNBC President/GM Frank Comerford. “We have to do different things.” His station offers 24/7 service Weather Plus as a secondary, digital channel and is plotting another digital outlet. WABC will relaunch ABC's 24/7 channel ABC News Now on its digital platform this summer. Rival WCBS is trying to hook viewers during the workday with a new custom newscast for its Web site.

The market's stations took in $1.669 billion in gross revenue last year, according to BIA Financial, behind Los Angeles, with $1.71 billion. In 2004, WNBC was the most profitable TV station in the U.S., with $345.9 million in revenue.

But all of them are battling a weakened advertising market. In the first quarter, ad revenue was off in the high single digits from a year ago. Banking is a bright spot, with market newcomers jockeying to get their brands out. Another bright spot is political. Mayor Michael Bloomberg kicked off his reelection efforts with a $1 million campaign, and New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester is spending, too. “That helps tighten inventory,” says WCBS President/General Manager Lew Leone.

It's aggressive, for sure. The fact is, New York is New York. “This is a diverse market and an important market,” says WPIX VP/GM Betty Ellen Berlamino. “It will always be healthy.”

Next: Tampa–St. Petersburg–Sarasota, Fla.