Market Eye: All Shook Up in Memphis

Memphis suffered a blow when Delta Airlines cleared out its hub at
Memphis International Airport in September, taking a bunch of jobs with it. But Memphians then got the chance to celebrate
when Southwest Airlines announced it was coming
into town, starting in early November. Besides jobs,
it means more convenient travel, and a bit of cachet.
“People are excited that Southwest has come to
Memphis,” says Ronald Walter, WREG president/GM.

While Memphis has long been known for its rich
musical heritage and, less trumpeted by the Chamber
of Commerce, a persistent crime problem, the
Memphis Grizzlies of the NBA—the city’s only major
pro sports franchise—are something of an obsession
in the area.

“People like their basketball here,” says Lee
Meredith, WMC VP and general manager. “The
season is just getting cranked up, and it’s a very
promising team.”

Local TV LLC’s WREG easily won total-day
household ratings in the May sweeps and took the
6 a.m. and 10 p.m. news races—the latter with a
convincing 11.4 household rating/17 share, ahead
of WMC’s 8.1/12. WREG won the primetime ratings
battle, while WMC took a tight 6 p.m. contest.

Tribune expects to close on its acquisition of Local
TV by year-end. A CBS affiliate, WREG excels with
a “relentless focus on serving the needs of our viewers,”
says Walter, along with greater dedication to
audience research the past few years. “The research
tells us what the viewers want to know,” he says.

Fox owns WHBQ, which puts up strong 25-54
demo ratings with its 5 p.m. news. Nexstar has the
ABC-CW duopoly, WATN and WLMT, and has big
things planned for both since acquiring them from
Newport TV last year. WPTY was rechristened WATN
Local 24 on June 1, coinciding with Nexstar’s new
27,000-square-foot HD facility. Ardy
Diercks, who took over as GM in January, credits
Nexstar for “giving the stations a chance to compete.”

WATN is hiring talent on both sides of the camera
from the competition. “People who come over
here want to be a part of the authorship of something
new,” says Diercks, formerly the GM at WTVJ Miami.

Comcast is the main subscription TV operator in
Memphis. The market has its challenges; it dropped
from No. 49 to No. 50 in the most recent Nielsen
market rankings, and a merger of the city and suburban
school systems has been rocky. General managers
describe the economy as “tough,” “fair” and
“hanging in there.” “There have been some real positive
announcements,” says Meredith. “Otherwise,
you might say it’s fragile.”

Stations are expanding their local offerings. NBC
affiliate WMC has a 7 a.m. news on its Bounce TV
subchannel. WHBQ added 6-8 a.m. news on Saturdays
and is looking at Sunday mornings too. “We
have a veteran group,” says John Koski, VP and general
manager. “We are capable of bringing on more
news, and there seems to be a demand for it.”

Recognizing how many viewers watch with a digital
device in hand, WHBQ uses the graphic “2 Screen Experience”
to send viewers online for more information.
The station saw its World Series numbers go up 59%
this year over last, thanks to the Cardinals’ appearance.
“St. Louis is right up the street,” Koski notes.

Crime and the dysfunctional school system give
the station newsrooms plenty to cover. But Memphis
remains a place with heritage to celebrate up
and down Beale Street and beyond. “There’s never a
boring second,” says Memphis native Walter, “if you
want to explore or get involved.”

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.