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Market Eye: Back on Top in Toledo

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After its stranglehold on the Toledo ratings crown slipped in recent years, WTOL is firmly on top again. News director C.J. Hoyt joined the station last year from WFIE Evansville (Ind.), and he has the CBS affiliate’s news outfit humming.

“C.J. brought extreme focus on daily content and restructured management in the newsroom,” says Bob Chirdon,VP and general manager at the Raycom station. “And he hired well.”

It’s been a fairly tumultuous time for stations in DMA No. 74. Late in 2010, Disney/ABC sold WTVG to SJL Holdings, which installed John Christianson as general manager early in 2011. In January 2012, LIN Media sold Fox affi liate WUPW to Thomas Henson’s American Spirit Media for $22 million. Raycom then inked a shared services agreement with WUPW.

In May, the region’s main subscription TV operator, Buckeye Cable, filed suit against Raycom, claiming it was unfair to increase Buckeye’s retransmission fee for WUPW following the shared services agreement. Chirdon would not comment on the case.

The other major player in the local broadcast space is Barrington Broadcasting’s NBC affiliate, WNWO. Chris Topf is coming up on his first anniversary as president and CEO of WNWO, having shifted from a Barrington corporate position in New York. Topf acknowledges WNWO’s news operation needed an overhaul. “We’re streamlining our newsgathering,” he says. “Instead of a lot of people with one skill, we have people with multiple skills.”

While WTOL and WTVG had split many of the news ratings races in recent years, WTOL was the clear winner in the May sweeps. The station took total day household ratings, along with primetime, early evening and late news; its 9 household rating/27.8 share at 11 p.m. topped WTVG’s 5.8/17.8. WTVG won the morning news race. The two stations virtually tied in 2011 revenue at an estimated $17.2 million, according to BIA/Kelsey.

WTVG GM Christianson did not return calls. Industry watchers say the sale has been good for the ABC affiliate, now more of a star in the SJL group instead of a stepchild as a network O&O.

Toledo has been hit hard by the economic crisis. The market’s Nielsen rank has slipped from No. 70 last year to No. 74—tied for the largest drop among all Nielsen TV markets— losing more than 19,000 TV households. Many residents are reluctant to make major purchases out of concern for their employment status and shaky home values. “The housing market is still depressed,” says Chirdon. “That will take a while to come back. In areas like this, the hit was huge, and we’ve not yet recovered.”

The stations continue to hustle. WNWO this fall will sub in the syndicated Jeff Probst for Nate Berkus, and the station is deploying more social media to better hear community concerns. “We’re trying to bring viewers more into the story and the conversation,” says Topf. “They’re telling us what the news is.”

Hoyt re-jiggered WTOL’s news operation, installing dedicated executive producers for morning, day and evening. WTOL produces a 7 a.m., 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. news for WUPW; the 7 a.m., which launched in July, will expand to two hours in the fall. “That’s a newscast in a space that did not have news before,” says Hoyt.

WUPW will have 9½ hours of news per day come fall.

There are bright spots in the economy. Topf speaks of an “avalanche” of political advertising in the swing state of Ohio. The Hollywood Casino, a $350 million development, opened in the spring. Chrysler parent Fiat is investing big-time in its local manufacturing operations, including a new Jeep facility. “There are some things happening that are significant,” says Chirdon. “Hopefully things begin to turn around.”

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