Market Eye: Battle of Baltimore

While general managers typically bemoan the arrival of Nielsen's Local People Meters (LPMs), most of the bosses in Baltimore think their July launch has been positive. It's a much tighter ratings race in DMA No. 27 these days. “The LPMs have closed the gap,” says WMAR General Manager Bill Hooper. “It gives our marketplace a much more competitive feel.”

Of course, not everyone stands to gain from a new metric. The LPMs are “a work in progress,” says WBAL President/General Manager Jordan Wertlieb. “We're working closely with Nielsen,” he adds, “to make sure the market is fairly represented.”

Hearst's WBAL took morning and early evening news in May sweeps, and the NBC affiliate won a tight 11 p.m. race, its 10.2 household rating/17.5 share topping CBS O&O WJZ's 9.7/16.7. WJZ took primetime easily, and total day ratings by a hair. The 2008 revenue race was even closer; WBAL's $53.8 million edged WJZ's $53.55 million, according to BIA Financial.

Baltimore has heavy-hitter owners besides Hearst and CBS. Sinclair owns Fox affiliate WBFF and manages Cunningham's CW outlet WNUV. Scripps owns ABC affiliate WMAR, and Fox owns MyNetworkTV affiliate WUTB.

While crime remains a problem, Baltimore's 2008 homicide rate was its lowest in years, and 2009 may be even lower. Yet it's not all good news in Charm City. Mayor Sheila Dixon went on trial Nov. 9, charged with keeping gift cards intended for the poor.

But the economy is a brighter spot, managers say. A military base realignment and the expansion of Johns Hopkins' considerable medical presence bring stable jobs to the market. Baltimore's blue-collar background is giving way to more government-support jobs spilling out of Washington. “It still has that [blue-collar presence], but there's a tremendous government sector and health sector,” says WJZ VP/General Manager Jay Newman.

With the new twist on the ratings race, stations are hustling for an advantage. WJZ is working with its CBS Radio partners and the Baltimore Sun to extend its reach. WBAL overhauled its Weather Plus digital channel; WBAL Plus features news, weather, sports and syndicated shows. WMAR is scrapping a 6:30 p.m. Sunday newscast, but has expanded morning news with another hour at 9. WUTB plays up its family-friendly syndicated programming. “Mom and Dad can sit with the kids and everyone can laugh together,” says VP/General Manager Alan Sawyer.

WBFF, meanwhile, debuted This TV in February and features a longform “cover story” each night in its 10 p.m. news. General Manager Bill Fanshawe says the station benefits from being the Sinclair flagship. “There are advantages to being in corporate's backyard,” he says. “You know the players if you want to get something accomplished.”

E-mail comments to

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, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.