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King of the Rhode

WJAR has long commanded the lion's share of ratings points and revenue dollars in Providence, and it looks to have a robust late summer and autumn ahead. An NBC affiliate, the Media General station will enjoy an Olympics-fueled August, and the biggest player in Rhode Island news stands to benefit from the election season this fall.

That should help make up for a local economic slump. “It's not an easy economic climate, but other than that, things are good in Providence,” says WJAR VP/General Manager Lisa Churchville.

While the Rhode Island capital has undergone a well-publicized revitalization, the DMA's economy is indeed in the dumps. BIA Financial ranks Providence-New Bedford, the No. 52 Nielsen DMA, as the No. 61 revenue market. The primary employers are city, state and federal government, along with hospitals, universities such as Brown and the University of Rhode Island, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

While those are relatively stable job sources, gas prices have bitten into the tourism business that typically sees the region's beach communities jammed in the summer. “The Rhode Island economy is a mess,” says WPRI President/General Manager Jay Howell, “with high taxes, low job growth and lost population.”

The market took in $75.5 million in 2007, per BIA, with a slight bump forecasted for '08. WJAR led with $31.2 million, trailed by LIN CBS outlet WPRI with $18.6 million, the Super Towers-owned Fox outlet WNAC with $11.5 million and Global Broadcasting's ABC affiliate WLNE ($9.3 million). Four Points Media owns CW affiliate WLWC.

Despite a fourth-place finish in primetime in May, WJAR easily won total day ratings, along with morning, evening and late news. Its 9.5 household rating/19 share at 11 p.m. beat WPRI's 6.1/12, and WJAR scored a heavy win at 6 a.m. with a 7.9/32. The station starts an interactive advertising test with Backchannel Media in September.

But WJAR's rivals have made up ground. WLNE gained a percent point in revenue share in 2007, reports BIA, while WNAC gained a point and a half. Primetime leader WPRI has a local marketing agreement with WNAC, and Howell is stoked about a morning show launching on the Fox affiliate in January. The 8 a.m. program, a mix of news, entertainment and local flavor, will start off as an hour and expand to two. Howell is employing a unique means for finding a host: an American Idol-inspired local talent search. “It'll be a very Rhode Island show,” he says.

WLNE, bought by Global in October, has a new boss in Steve Doerr, who shifts from a consulting gig with AR&D. Doerr is quarterbacking a news and sales overhaul. He brought in anchor Allison Alexander, whom he knows from his days as news director at WOIO Cleveland, and launched a 4 p.m. news in January, replacing syndicated fare. Doerr points out year-over-year ratings growth in nearly all newscasts for four straight sweeps.

That 4 p.m. slot is shaping up as a key battleground. WPRI's Judge Judy was the highest-rated syndicated show in May, barely topping WJAR's Oprah Winfrey. Doerr likes that WLNE offers the only local option at 4. “We really feel local news is the key to our future,” he says. “It's what we do best.”

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