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Market Eye: The Battery Is Fully Charged

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Charleston, S.C., residents are not shy about talking up their city’s considerable attributes, from its scenic beaches to world-class restaurants to the distinctive mansions near its famed Battery.

In his novel South of Broad, author/local resident Pat Conroy describes Charleston as “a town so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets.” But some major praise came recently from outside the market, when Condé Nast Traveler’s readers voted Charleston the No. 1 U.S. city last year.

Tourism is the local economic driver, and such accolades in the national media have given it a healthy boost. “It’s through the roof,” says Rita Scott, WCSC vice president and general manager. “If you look at the restaurants and hotels, there’s something going on all the time.”

Charleston is ranked market No. 98, but BIA/Kelsey has it at No. 92 for revenue. Raycom’s WCSC gets the bulk of it. The CBS station won all the key races in May, including late news with a 7.7 household rating/ 27.6 share. Media General’s WCBD and Allbritton’s WCIV were well off the pace, each posting a 2.2 rating/ 8 share.

Cunningham Broadcasting’s WTAT has a solid newscast at 10; produced by WCSC, it posted a 4.3 rating/ 9.6 share in May. The Fox affiliate also airs a 7-8 a.m. news program. ABC af! liate WCIV is the runnerup in prime, while NBC outlet WCBD keeps things competitive at 6 p.m.

The market features three female general managers. Sinclair owns MyNetworkTV affiliate WMMP, which shares management with WTAT. WCBD offers The CW on its .2 channel. Comcast is Charleston’s major subscription TV operator. WCSC thrives on a well-respected anchor crew and its legacy in the market. “We have some of the strongest talent,” Scott says. “People have grown up with them and know they’ll be there to give them the right information.”

Its “Live 5” branding is ubiquitous, Scott says, found at most every community event, and the crew is gathering news around the clock—well after the sun goes down. WCSC is the only local station sending staff out in the overnight, she says, making for fresh content when the 5 a.m. news rolls. “We’re out overnight gathering stories,” says Scott. “We are there as the breaking news leader.”

Presidential spending looks to be subdued, as South Carolina traditionally votes Republican.

WCSC claims around 38% of the market’s revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey. Nearly a third of the residents are African-American, notes BIA/Kelsey, and WCSC broadcasts to them with a lively Bounce TV multicast that Scott is happy to relate was named 2012’s Best New TV Channel by Charleston City Paper. “‘TV our way’ means TV for anyone with decent taste in film,” said the alternative weekly paper, echoing the Bounce TV tagline.

WCSC’s rivals are doing what they can to make up the difference, including adding to their HD offerings. WCBD aims to have HD local news in time for the Summer Olympics, which kick off July 27 in London. “It’s become the price of admission in this world,” says Rick Lipps, vice president and general manager. “We’re happy to be a part of that game.”

WCIV is close to adding HD field acquisition to its hi-def news. The station also welcomes Katie to a powerful daytime lineup that includes Ellen and Dr. Oz. “We really feel we’re in a strong position for the fall,” says Suzanne Teagle, president and general manager. “Katie is a wonderful addition to the lineup.”

WMMP has an SEC football package and high school games in prime. WTAT adds the talkers featuring Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst in the fall. “We expect [Harvey] to do really well, as [the Harvey-hosted] Family Feud is No. 1 in access,” says Mary Margaret Nelms, general manager.

The stations appear set in terms of local news. Teagle suspects there may be too much of it as it is. “We’re the 98th market,” she says. “I don’t think we need that much news.”

Charleston’s famous hospitality will be on display when it hosts the PGA Championship in August on nearby Kiawah Island. A Boeing manufacturing plant has brought thousands of jobs to the region and helped kick-start the depressed housing market. An expanded port means more cargo and cruise ships.

It has all served to transform this charming southern locale from one of America’s great cities, to a worldclass destination. No less a pundit than The New York Times called Charleston “a salty gem of a city,” and “one of the great eating towns of the American South”—on par with New Orleans.

“Charleston is no longer a sleepy little historic town,” says WCBD’s Lipps. “That’s good and bad, but time marches on.”

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