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The TV stations in Jackson, Miss., have a particularly close relationship. WLBT is set to mark the one-year anniversary of a shared services agreement with the Fox affiliate, WDBD. WDBD, meanwhile, has a joint sales agreement with WLOO after its parent donated the station to a local college.
WLBT is a hub for a statewide news network, sharing content with its Mississippi-based Raycom siblings and other stations Raycom has operating agreements with. “I don’t know of any other state that can duplicate what we are doing here,” says Dan Modisett, VP/general manager at WLBT. “It’s a huge advantage.”
Modisett, a Jackson native, mentions another WLBT advantage that’s rare for a market of Jackson’s size — the only TV-station helicopter.
Yet the competition is raising its level of play to challenge the NBC affiliate. WAPT is the only station live at 4:30 a.m., and its newscast features a new set, live truck and a third TVUPack, compliments of Hearst Television. “They tell me, you keep growing, we’ll keep feeding you,” Stuart Kellogg, president and GM, says of Hearst. “Not a lot of stations are adding folks.”
WAPT is aligned with ABC. WJTV, a CBS affiliate, added The CW to its subchannel after the former CW station, WRBJ, was sold to Trinity Broadcasting and converted to religious programming. “Mississippi’s CW” replaced a weather channel and rolled out its full schedule in late October following a soft launch.
American Spirit Media owns WDBD and sold WUFX — now WLOO — to the historically black college Tougaloo for a dollar. WLOO airs MyNetworkTV and syndicated programming.
WLBT, WJTV and WAPT were virtually tied in total-day household ratings in the May sweeps. WJTV took primetime. WLBT won the key news races, including 10 p.m. with a 9 household rating/20 share, just ahead of WAPT’s 8/18 and WJTV’s 7/15. (WLBT won the adults 25-54 race at 10 p.m. too.)
Retrans Shutdowns Are ‘No Fun’
WLBT will soon begin producing weekend prime news for WDBD. Jackson has a huge appetite for local product. “Local news ratings points are really high compared to the rest of the country,” says Jama Killingsworth, WDBD GM. “It’s a market where local news is king.”
DMA No. 94 is roughly evenly split between African-American and white residents, according to BIA/Kelsey. Modisett says WLBT thrives with a workforce that reflects the makeup of Jackson. “There’s more diversity at this station per capita than any one I can think of,” he says.
Comcast is Jackson’s major pay-television operator, but more than half the market’s subscribers are on satellite. The stations have had their battles with Dish Network; WLBT was off the air for Dish subscribers for nine days in August (“No fun,” says Modisett), while WJTV kicked off what it refers to as its “Dishruption” on Oct. 1. Jimmy Cromwell, VP and general manager at WJTV, says he has found a “silver lining” in the continuing retrans shutdown. “We’ve had a lot of interaction with viewers, and heard just how much they support you and your efforts as local broadcasters,” he says.
As a state capital, Jackson is relatively immune to economic downturns; Kellogg calls it a “no-boom, no-bust market.” College football is a major topic of conversation this time of year. This “charming” Southern city, in the words of multiple general managers, with a favorable climate and easy access to major metropolises, has something for everyone. “It’s a unique place with an enormous amount of diversity,” Cromwell says. “I like what that represents.”
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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.