Market Eye: Battle Ready

It's been a rough patch for Cincinnati, but the general managers in market No. 33 say the skies are brightening. Cincinnati had an eventful analog TV turnoff in June, owing primarily to its topographical challenges. After a few weeks of heavy call volume, the viewer queries have slowed to a trickle.

The television business is down around 25% for the year, but the revenue picture in Cincinnati, home to Procter & Gamble and Macy's, is picking up. Voting measure Issue 3, centered on casino gambling, is bringing in robust advertising, and Ohio stands to be a key state when the midterm election season rolls around next year. “We continue to tread water until the economy gets behind us,” says WCPO VP/General Manager Bill Fee. “But there's a noticeable uptick in Q4.”

Another source of optimism is the NFL's Bengals. Long-suffering fans have been rewarded with a winning team this year; a game against the Houston Texans on WKRC hit a whopping 70 share at one point. “The market really gets behind the orange and black when they're playing well,” says WXIX VP/General Manager Bill Lanesey.

Another comeback story is WCPO. Thanks to improved prime numbers and a renewed focus on new business, Scripps' ABC affiliate won an extremely close revenue race in 2008, according to BIA Financial, its $41.28 million just nosing out CBS outlet WKRC. The latter—part of the batch that Newport acquired from Clear Channel in 2008—had won the revenue race for years.

It's an extraordinarily close ratings contest, too. Mornings were a virtual tie in May, with WCPO, WKRC and Raycom's Fox affiliate WXIX sharing household honors. WCPO won total day and early evening news. WKRC took primetime and late news, its 10.0 rating/19 share at 11 edging out WCPO's 9/16.

Also in the running are Hearst's NBC outlet WLWT, which upped the ante by debuting former WXIX anchor Jack Atherton on Oct. 5, and Sinclair's MyNetworkTV outlet WSTR. CW programming airs on WKRC's digital tier, along with a 10 p.m. newscast and college football. “We've really invested in the growth of that station,” says WKRC VP/General Manager Les Vann.

All of them are fighting fiercely for ratings points. WXIX extended its 6:30 p.m. news to an hour this fall and launched the weekly Friday Prep Rally football program. WKRC turned on local hi-def on Sept. 27. WCPO has petitioned the FCC to shift from a VHF to a UHF signal. And WLWT, unlike many NBC affiliates, has seen a noticeable uptick in both prime and late news since Jay Leno debuted at 10.

Like their beloved Bengals, stations have been fortified by the trying times. “We're battle-tested at this point,” says WLWT President/General Manager Richard Dyer. “We all look optimistically to 2010.”

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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.