Market Eye: Eternally Charming Charleston

Charleston is, by seemingly every account, a little nirvana nestled on the Southeast coast. It has world-class “low country” cuisine, is a city where simply walking around, taking in the scenery, is its own favorite pastime, and has a gaudy revenue rank of No. 81, according to BIA/Kelsey, despite it being market size 95.

Surely there’s something about Charleston that’s not working?

Rita Scott, WCSC VP and general manager, thinks about it, and thinks some more. “We do have traffic problems,” she says, noting the limited number of highways and bridges, coupled with major population growth. “There is a problem, at times, getting around.”

The market's population of 839,400 is expected to climb to 904,200 by 2018, says BIA/Kelsey. “Tourism is booming and unemployment is low,” says Scott. “It’s a good time to be in Charleston.”

WCSC is a crackerjack CBS affiliate. The Raycom station’s total-day household rating in May was nearly double that of WCBD, Media General’s NBC affiliate. Besides winning prime, WCSC is a monster in mornings and early evenings, and posted a 6.2 household rating/23.9 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WCIV’s 2.2/8.5. WTAT, a Fox affiliate owned by Cunningham, put up a 4/9.5 at 10 p.m.; WCSC produces that newscast.

ABC affiliate WCIV was obtained by Sinclair in its Allbritton acquisition, then sold to Howard Stirk Holdings for regulatory reasons. Stirk principal Armstrong Williams acknowledges he has an expensive turnaround job at hand. “It will take some time to figure out,” he says, “but we’ll figure it out.”

WCIV and MyNetworkTV affiliate WMMP are operated independently of Sinclair, as is WTAT. The latter is bringing master control and traffic back in-house. “It’s nice to have control of our own destiny,” says Matt McCarthy, general manager.

Don Pratt stepped into the WCBD general manager job in April. He was general manager at KBOI in Boise, and previously was news director at WCSC. His new news director is Bryan Luhn, who brings both major market (Seattle, Denver) and Weather Channel experience. “We really wanted someone who understands the significance of weather in a coastal market like Charleston,” says Pratt.

WCBD airs The CW on its dottwo channel. Comcast is the primary subscription TV operator.

The ratings title is WCSC’s to lose. Producing 7½ hours of news a day, the station boasts the right mix of deep experience (Bill Sharpe and Debi Chard have been on the desk for 40-plus years) and next-generation talent. “We get new blood in the building but yet stay tried and true,” Scott says.

Key to Charleston’s enviable economy is a diversified business landscape, ranging from tourism to hi-tech to military, along with a Boeing manufacturing facility. The stations are looking forward to Nielsen meters in 2015.

Pratt counts himself among Charleston’s happy new arrivals. “It was a great opportunity in a great city,” he says. “We made a great decision and we’re glad we’re here.”

What’s Working in Charleston: New Sets For Leader, Runner-Up

Both WCSC and WCBD introduced splashy new state-of-the-art sets this year. Raycom’s WCSC went with a “totally new on-air look,” says Rita Scott, VP and general manager, including more contemporary LED lighting and more color.

WCBD wrapped up its “complete overhaul,” as Don Pratt, VP and general manager, puts it, in April. That includes a massive 90-inch screen situated between the anchors on the back wall along with a 9-panel monitor display. The setup offers a more dynamic way to present video and graphics. “It gives the viewer a slightly different look on things,” says Pratt.

Viewers have weighed in on the design, he adds. “It won’t make you No. 1 overnight,” Pratt says, “but it’s part of the package when you’re putting a compelling newscast together.”

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.