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South Carolina native John Soapes had not been in Greenville-Spartanburg in 15 years when he was tapped to run WYFF as GM a few years ago. Featuring a bevy of new sights on display, from ambitious local restaurants to new mega-corporations, it was hardly the same Greenville he’d known before. “It was overwhelming,” Soapes says. “The city grew at such a rapid pace.”
But Greenville-Spartanburg- Asheville-Anderson is struggling to get station revenue on par with the market’s growth. It’s the No. 37 Nielsen DMA, but just No. 44 by revenue, reports BIA/Kelsey. Station GMs here speak of a “general malaise” around the region, a feeling enhanced by the sequester mandate coming out of Washington, D.C. “The market’s a little soft in the first quarter,” says Bob Romine, WSPA VP and GM. “We haven’t quite figured out why.”
Local advertising revenue is down, Romine adds, while national is flat.
The market is made up of what’s called “The Upstate” section of South Carolina and southern North Carolina. Stations fight hard to win their submarket—and poach viewers from the other quadrants. Media Generalowned CBS affiliate WSPA is in Spartanburg. Hearst Television’s NBC outlet WYFF is in Greenville, as is Meredith-owned Fox affiliate WHNS. Sinclair has a virtual duopoly in ABC affiliate WLOS, licensed to Asheville, and MyNetworkTV station WMYA, owned by closely aligned Cunningham Broadcasting and licensed to Anderson, S.C.
Media General has the other duopoly in WYCW, or “Carolina’s CW.” Charter is the market’s dominant cable operator, though satellite subs are exceptionally high.
The ratings race is a hot one. WYFF and WLOS tied for the a.m. news lead in the February sweeps, with WSPA just a tenth of a point off the pace. WLOS won 5 p.m. and WYFF took 6. WSPA grabbed the total-day and primetime races and also won late news with a 7.5 household rating/14 share, ahead of WLOS’ 5.6/10.
WSPA brought in an estimated $26.28 million in 2011, the most recent year BIA/Kelsey has figures for. WYFF did $25.43 million and WLOS $22.98 million.
Soapes, who took over as GM of WYFF in May 2011, calls it a “truly hyphenated” market. “We all try to capture our backyards,” he says, “but also do things to bring in viewers from outside our backyards.”
WYFF flipped on local HD last year, while debuting a new set, graphics package, website and mobile app.
WLOS supplements its Web coverage with a feed from right-leaning news agency Newsmax. WHNS bills itself as “Fox Carolina” and shows the localized Meredith show Better Carolinas at 10 a.m.
WSPA operates news bureaus in Anderson and Greenville. “We try to be as balanced as we can across the DMA,” says Romine.
Romine arrived in 2011 after a long run atop a pair of Media General-owned CBS affiliates in Jackson and Hattiesburg, Miss. WSPA thrives with an “On Your Side” advocacy brand. WSPA-WYCW offer an abundance of live programming; besides news, there is the lifestyle show Your Carolina out of the downtown Greenville set, at 10 a.m. on the CBS side. Last December, WYCW debuted sister program Carolina Now, shot in Spartanburg, at 11 a.m.
“We’ve got nine hours a day of local news and programming,” says Romine. “We’re kind of tapped out in terms of expanding.”
WSPA-WYCW are enjoying Media General’s status as a pure-play broadcaster, no longer saddled with a newspaper division’s losses. “It’s a creative environment where we are more innovative and more flexible on the broadcast side,” Romine says. “There’s the opportunity to be more bold and aggressive as a company, and certainly as broadcasters in Greenville-Spartanburg.”
The market enjoys a number of major companies with a presence in the region, including Michelin, BMW, Adidas and Amazon. TD Bank expanded its operation in Greenville last year; it plans to eventually add some 1,400 jobs. “There’s a lot of innovation going on,” says Soapes. “It’s not a sleepy little town anymore.”
While the market held at No. 37 in the Nielsen rankings, it did lose nearly 15,000 TV households last year, which the general managers believe to be more of a Nielsen recalibration than a matter of decreased head count. BIA/Kelsey forecasts more than 100,000 people moving in to the market from 2011-16, a 1% growth rate.
Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a popular tourist destination. Greenville’s restaurant scene is starting to rival that of Charleston, locals say. Spartanburg bills itself as a music town on the same stage as Music City itself. “If Nashville moved south, it’d be here,” goes the tourism bureau’s slogan. Anderson is in the foothills of the mountains, on the shores of Lake Hartwell.
Soapes continues to enjoy poking around his new environs. “It’s a gem of a city for sure,” he says of Greenville.
Same goes for Romine, who digs the friendly people and the mountain views as he drives to and from WSPA. “What a beautiful piece of the country to be living in,” he says. “And, coming from Jackson, the four seasons here are extraordinary to me.”
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