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Market Eye: Betting Big in Cin’ City

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Cincinnati is eager to turn a boatload of visitors on to its unique charms. The massive Horseshoe Casino—one of four gambling monoliths being built in Ohio—is slated to open in 2013, and the World Choir Games, a giant singing competition featuring top global talent, is being held through 11 days this July, with some 20,000 participants and many more spectators. “It’s going to be just huge,” says Steve Thaxton, vice president and general manager at WCPO.

The ratings race is hotly contested as well, though Newport Television’s WKRC is putting some space between it and its rivals. The CBS affiliate thrives on the “tremendous local heritage” of its anchors, says Les Vann, vice president and general manager. Main anchor Rob Braun’s father hosted the popular Bob Braun Show out of Cincinnati for 17 years, while Rob’s on-air partner, Cammy Dierking, is the daughter of a local celeb as well: her dad, Connie, starred for Cincy’s then-NBA franchise, the Royals.

Vann constantly pushes his WKRC group to improve. “We take a hard look at everything we do every day,” he says. “This station is not in prevent-defense mode.” (As an example, Vann mentions the station upgrading its master control recently to allow for HD commercials and syndicated programming.)

Thaxton joined Scripps’ WCPO last March, following Bill Fee’s retirement. His former employer, WCSH Portland, is a monster in Maine. Cincinnati represents a tougher challenge—one made more difficult by the surprise departure of longtime news director Bob Morford this month. Thaxton says he’ll take his time finding the right replacement—someone with journalistic chops, creativity and abundant energy. “I want it all,” Thaxton says. “It’s the critical hire I’m going to have as far as management goes.”

WKRC knows about critical news hires: Kirk Varner, formerly of WTNH New Haven, recently marked one year as WKRC news director.

WKRC had a huge November sweeps, winning all the major races and taking 11 p.m. news with a 10.8 household rating/19.7 share—ahead of WCPO’s 6.5/11.9. (WKRC posted a 5.9/18.5 in adults 25-54, while WCPO put up a 2.7/8.2.) Raycom’s Fox affiliate WXIX and Newport’s CW affiliate, which airs on WKRC’s subchannel, have 10 p.m. newscasts. Vann says the local CW is every bit a full station to WKRC and to Cincinnati viewers, winning the network’s “Model Affiliate” prize in 2011.

Hearst Television owns NBC affiliate WLWT; Sinclair has MyNetworkTV outlet WSTR.

Time Warner Cable is the primary subscription TV operator in Cincinnati, while Insight rules in northern Kentucky.

Local GMs say Cincy viewers appreciate local news more than most markets. WKRC is playing up the market’s quirkier attributes with its “So Cincinnati” promotional campaign. Nick Clooney, father of movie star George Clooney, was a popular anchor, host and news director in Cincinnati, the bulk of it at WKRC. George spoke about the attributes, as well as pressures, of growing up the son of local TV royalty in a recent Rolling Stone cover story; he also made time for WKRC while filming political thriller The Ides of March.

“We were the only station that got an interview with him when he shot the movie,” says Vann.

Stations are pushing hard to get ahead. WXIX became one of a small but growing number of stations across the country going live at 4 a.m. The station paired its morning meteorologists for First Weather, which launched last August. The Fox affiliate gets Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from WCPO this fall, and has shifted its 6-7 early evening news block to 6:30-7:30. “We did that with an eye toward [the] fall,” says Bill Lanesey, vice president and general manager. “We anticipate WCPO doing something local at 7 p.m.”

WCPO adds Katie Couric’s daytime show this fall. The station has a lively multicast strategy, with weather on its .2 channel and ABC’s Live Well Network on its .3. “It’s another nice product to have in our arsenal,” says Thaxton, noting that Live Well’s female skew is a good match for the ABC affiliate.

WSTR has its own on-air host in local guy Storm Bennett. It airs The Big Bang Theory double- runs from 7-8 p.m and has TheCoolTV’s music videos on a subchannel.

WLWT, which won the 6-7 a.m. demo race in November, saw a ratings uptick on its subchannel after substituting Me-TV in for weather. The NBC affiliate has both the Super Bowl and the Olympics this year; Richard Dyer, president/GM, is driving a robust content-onall- platforms strategy. “Our mission, our theme, our identity is to be convenient and accessible to viewers whenever they need news and information,” he says.

Ohio again looks to be a swing state, which means loads of political money pouring in to the Cincinnati stations. “We know Ohio is going to be important in the 2012 landscape,” says Dyer.

When he’s not interviewing prospective news directors and figuring out how to get ahead of WKRC, WCPO’s Thaxton is checking out his new Queen City surroundings. “Cincinnati is very hilly, which makes it real pretty,” he says. “It feels different from a lot of Midwestern cities that are flat.”

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