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Marching Toward Madness

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The past two winners of the NCAA men’s college basketball championship have come out of the Triad region of North Carolina, and station managers in Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem fully expect national powerhouses Duke and the University of North Carolina to bring it again in 2011. CBS covers the games with cable partner Turner, meaning a viewer windfall for Gannett CBS affiliate WFMY.

“Basketball is huge here,” says Bill Lancaster, WFMY general sales manager. “March Madness is always a strong performer.”

The market’s top TV outlets include WFMY, Local TV’s Fox affiliate WGHP, and Hearst TV’s NBC station WXII. The ratings titles are spread around: WGHP won totalday household ratings in the February sweeps, a tenth of a point better than WFMY. WGHP won prime time more handily. The Fox affiliate also had the highest late news rating at 10, while WFMY won the crucial 11 p.m. news race, its 7.9 household rating/15 share better than WXII’s 7.3/14.

Deborah Hooper, a 25-year veteran at WFMY, left her GM spot earlier this year to become president of Greensboro’s Chamber of Commerce. Lancaster is in charge until a new GM is named.

Hank Price, WXII president/general manager, says Hearst TV’s backing gives his station an advantage. “We came out of the recession strong,” Price says. “The company has invested in our future, and I think that’s paid off.”

Each of the big three is based in a different section of the market —WFMY in Greensboro, WGHP in High Point and WXII in Winston- Salem. Rounding out the market are Sinclair’s ABC affiliate WXLV and MyNetworkTV affiliate WMYV, and TTBG-owned WCWG, a CW outlet. WXLV-WMYV GM Ron Inman recently departed the Sinclair stations.

Time Warner Cable is the dominant subscription- TV operator, while AT&T’s U-Verse is moving up. Sinclair recently inked a deal with TWC for the cable operator’s News 14 franchise to produce news for WXLV starting in 2012 [“Station to Station,” Feb. 21]. News 14’s Triad operation, which turns five later this year, enjoyed record ratings when snow hit the region earlier this winter.

DMA No. 47’s economy has shifted away from tobacco, but it’s been a challenge. A new Caterpillar plant means new jobs, while a Fed Ex hub sparked employment and has made the market more of a tech destination.

The TV business is off to a promising start in 2011, although the local economy continues to find its post-recession footing. “The economic struggles have affected a lot of folks,” says Lancaster. “I don’t think it will improve dramatically until unemployment goes down.”

With the ratings races so close, stations are trying everything they can to get ahead. WGHP launched local HD in September, the only area station with such an offering. “We’ve got a new set, new cameras, new everything,” says Karen Adams, WGHP president/GM. “We’ve gotten such strong feedback.”

WFMY is pushing its “Get Answers” brand. “We dig into stories that are important to viewers,” Lancaster says. “We help solve everyday problems.”

WXII this fall will replace Oprah with Dr. Oz, airing Dr. Phil at 3 and Oz at 4. The station is also adding more live video and breaking news to, which Price says often surpasses the combined traffic totals of the daily newspapers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem. “Web traffic has exploded,” he says. “Our Website’s not an equal partner with television, but it’s on its way.”

Price can give Deborah Hooper at the Chamber a run for her money when talking about the Triad. “Of all the places we’ve lived, this fits who we are,” he says of his family. “We love the people, we love the land, we love the weather.”

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