It’s fall in New England, so tourists are flocking to Salem, Massachusetts, where the witch trials took place three centuries ago and the city is bedecked in Halloween finery. Across the Boston region, the leaves will soon turn their annual array of brilliant colors.
The Patriots aren’t pushing NFL teams around the way they used to, but another perennial local powerhouse, WCVB, remains top dog. When Kyle Grimes took over as general manager in July 2020 with Bill Fine retiring, he set out to meet each station employee individually. It was the height of COVID-19, so there were masks and some meetings took place outside.
But Grimes nonetheless came away with insights into how WCVB stays on top. “My biggest takeaway was, I’m not sure I’ve worked any place where every employee to a person cares as much about the health of the station as the people do here,” he said.
Grimes added that accountability happens “laterally” and does not have to be a mandate from management. “Everybody holds themselves and their peer group to a higher standard,” he said.
Hearst Television owns WCVB, an ABC affiliate. NBCUniversal has NBC station WBTS, Telemundo station WNEU, cable news channel NECN and NBC Sports Boston. CBS News and Stations holds WBZ and Sunbeam Television has independent WHDH and CW affiliate WLVI. Cox Media Group owns Fox affiliate WFXT and Entravision has Univision-aligned WUNI.
Comcast is the major pay-TV operator in Boston (Manchester), which is Nielsen’s No. 9 DMA.
Known as NewsCenter 5, WCVB continues to rule the ratings. WCVB easily won July’s 6-7 a.m. race in both households and viewers 25-54, per Nielsen ratings provided by a station, and won the 5 and 6 p.m. contests in both categories, too. At 11 p.m. in July, WCVB averaged 59,175 household impressions, ahead of WHDH’s 33,865, WBZ’s 31,955, WFXT’s 11,780 and WBTS’s 10,892. WNEU had 5,577 impressions in that slot and WUNI had 1,362. In the 11 p.m. demo, WCVB averaged 19,785 impressions. WHDH had 10,717, WBZ 7,534, WFXT just over 7,000, WBTS 3,643 and WNEU 1,677.
In July, Hearst Television promoted Grimes, adding VP, New England, to his title, with oversight of WMUR Manchester (New Hampshire) and duopolies in Maine and Plattsburgh (New York)-Burlington (Vermont). The stations are sharing more. WCVB has the rights to the Boston Marathon in April and Hearst’s other New England stations carried the station’s coverage of the event, as did ESPN.
With New Hampshire a bellwether in the presidential election, WMUR produces Conversations With the Candidates, sit-downs with the White House hopefuls, that the other stations air, too.
“Whether you’re in New Hampshire or not, getting acquainted with the people running for president is important,” Grimes said.
The 2023 marathon was WCVB’s first time airing the Patriot’s Day event in 17 years. Coverage went from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. “Sixteen hours is no small thing,” Grimes said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how the team saw that through.”
Making Boston Greater
WCVB’s rivals are hustling to get ahead. Adrienne Roark, CBS Stations president, spoke about developments at WBZ with president and general manager Justin Draper out on medical leave. The station introduced the tagline “A Greater Boston Starts Here” a year ago. “We are here to help make greater Boston a greater place to live,” Roark said. “The station really knows how to live up to that in terms of day-to-day content.”
Known as CBS News Boston, WBZ introduced an hourlong 7 a.m. news on streaming, and will tack on another hour at 8 a.m. by the end of the year.
Signature news segments include “Question Everything,” where anchor David Wade addresses viewers’ questions and curiosities, and “Change Makers,” with anchor Lisa Hughes profiling those tackling the market’s major issues.
NBCU’s facility in Needham, holding WBTS, WNEU, NECN and NBC Sports Boston, opened in 2020, and Chris Wayland, president and general manager, said the cohabitation has changed the way all four do business, with more sharing.
“We lean into the scale of our operation in a way I don’t think any local media company has ever done before,” he said.
NBC Sports Boston talent appears on WBTS, and bilingual WBTS and WNEU reporters move between the two. (The stations are known locally as NBC Boston and Telemundo Nueva Inglaterra.)
NECN started a 7 to 9 a.m. newscast, entitled NECN News @ 7 A.M., on September 11. FAST channel Boston News launched in early 2022. When Rachael Ray went off the air, WBTS introduced Boston News Daily in the 2 p.m. weekday slot.
Wayland mentioned an anchor revamp and boasted of “the most diverse on-air talent roster in the history of the city.” Seeing what he called a gap in coverage, NBC Boston has paid more attention to minority communities and the events in those neighborhoods and has seen significant growth in minority viewership across the past year. “It’s a direct result of the efforts we’ve made,” he said.
Known as 7 News, WHDH added an hourlong 10 a.m. news in June, meaning the station is live from 5 to 11 a.m. weekdays. Going independent in 2017 after a long run as an NBC affiliate, WHDH has 12 1/2 hours of news per weekday. “We’ve got a lot of news,” Jimmy Rogers, WHDH-WLVI VP and general manager, said.
WHDH has Family Feud on at 8 p.m. (“We love Steve Harvey,” Rogers said) and local news at 9. Rogers likes having a head start on the 10 and 11 p.m. news players. “It’s great to be on with local, late-breaking news at a time when viewership is at its highest,” he said.
The station added around 30 staffers when it went independent and expanded its local content.
WLVI is enjoying all the sports on The CW, including LIV golf and ACC football and basketball. The station offers an hourlong newscast at 10 p.m.
The Patriots are off to a grim 1-3 start (“a rebuild,” characterized one station exec), and the MLB playoffs are underway without the Red Sox in the hunt. (Sox fans were further saddened by the death of former pitcher Tim Wakefield on October 1.) But the NBA’s Celtics and NHL’s Bruins both start their new season looking hearty. “Both are considered favorites to be strong,” Grimes said.
The general managers say the economy looks strong as local media continues to recuperate post-COVID. “It’s definitely going better,” Roark said. “Political is coming.”
Much as it’s a sports town, there is plenty to Boston off the field, court and rink. The station chiefs like the city’s lively atmosphere, the arts scene, the fine dining.
“Boston is the championship city,” Rogers said. “It’s fast, it’s highly competitive, and we have the best accent in the country.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.