Market Eye: All-In in Albany

You can’t blame the crew at WNYT Albany if they’re feeling a bit lonely these days. After all, Fox affiliate WXXA has a new shared services agreement with Young Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate, WTEN. Coupled with Sinclair owning both CBS outlet WRGB and CW affiliate WCWN, WNYT—an NBC station—is the only Big Four outlet without a partner.

WNYT has withstood challenges, such as NBC’s ailing primetime, before. “We haven’t had to deal with that,” says Steve Baboulis, WNYT VP and general manager. “But we will, and I think we’ll continue to be highly competitive.”

M&A activity in Albany-Schenectady- Troy has been brisk. In July, Newport Television did a 19-station deal with three buyers. A few weeks later, Newport dealt WXXA to Sheldon Galloway’s Shield Media for $19.5 million.

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Late last year, Sinclair acquired the Freedom Broadcast stations, where WRGB was a crown jewel. After Freedom’s lengthy sale process, the staff appreciates knowing who its owner is for the foreseeable future. “Sinclair is dedicated to growing local news,” says Vincent Nelson, WRGB-WCWN general manager. “It’s good to be owned by such a stable entity that’s in growth mode.”

WCWN will be the market’s new broadcast partner for the New York Yankees in 2013, airing about 20 games. It’s also the Mets’ broadcast station. Other players include Venture Tech’s MyNetworkTV affiliate WNYA and Time Warner Cable’s YNN, which turns 10 this month. The broadcast competitors give YNN good marks for its round-the-clock reporting.

Hot Congressional races are shooting cash to stations. A burgeoning high-tech industry has helped the economy hold up better than other upstate New York markets, but it’s still a struggle. Albany is the No. 58 TV market, but it’s No. 64 in revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey. “Way too many people are unemployed,” says Nelson.

The ratings and revenue races have tightened. WNYT, WRGB and WTEN were in a virtual tie in total-day household ratings in the May sweeps. WRGB won primetime and took 11 p.m. news with a 5 rating/19 share, just ahead of WNYT’s 4/18. (WTEN was tops in adults 25-54.) WNYT won mornings and early evenings.

“The interesting thing about this market is how close the news ratings have become between the three stations,” says Andy Alford, WTEN VP and general manager.

Young came out of bankruptcy with money to invest. WTEN flipped the switch on HD last year, and expanded its noon newscast to an hour. The station this fall added the syndicated Steve Harvey at 10 a.m. and Katie at 3 p.m. The station has a permanent set at Saratoga Race Course for the venue’s summer season, with afternoon and early evening newscasts on-site.

WRGB over-indexes CBS primetime by 30%, says Nelson, thanks to strong local news, highrated daytime offerings such as Ellen and a robust Web strategy. “It’s a nice day of programming,” he says. “Wherever possible, we interact with viewers on any screen when they want to see us.”

WRGB’s advocacy, evident in news segments such as “You Paid For It,” works particularly well in a capital city market, where residents are sensitive to government waste.

WNYT has Anderson at 2 p.m., Rachael Ray at 3 (Ray is from the Albany area) and Dr. Oz at 4. Primetime is seemingly reinvigorated so far this new season. Baboulis is reluctant to blame NBC for the tighter ratings race, and he notes some new network shows, following promotional bullhorns such as the Olympics, will be a boon. “We feel very confident our primetime performance is improving by a wide margin,” Baboulis says. “It helps when the network does well.”

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Michael Malone

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.