Market Eye: Full ‘Court’ PressIn Orlando | @BCMikeMalone

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The Casey Anthony Trial that gripped the attention of America, and beyond, in 2011 was considered a once-in-a-generation news story for central Florida…only to have George Zimmerman’s trial come up this year. That case, involving the killing of Trayvon Martin, had the Orlando TV stations going live all day and every day, and covering every new wrinkle on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. “These things come up once in a lifetime, and in the last three years, we’ve had two,†says Jim Carter, WESH-WKCF president/general manager.

Orlando stations with duopolies shifted network programming to their sister outlets, such as WFTV moving its ABC slate to independent WRDQ. The stations took a hit on advertising revenue, but that’s what good broadcasters do when there’s major news.

WKMG had a Zimmerman trial mobile app. Fox-owned WOFL tapped a lineup of legal experts, body-language pundits and Fox News Channel talent to create what VP and general manager Allyson Meyers calls a “super-panel of guests at any given time.â€

The case, and its racial overtones, was an extremely sensitive one to cover. WESH produced a prime special that aired the day after the jury rendered its verdict. News 13, the local cable network owned Bright House Networks, had 16 to 18 people on site at all times, says Tim Geraghty, senior director of news. “We covered literally every minute of it, from jury selection to the verdict,†he adds.

WFTV is the ratings monster in DMA No. 19, thanks to stellar breaking news coverage, robust investigative reporting and a brand that resonates in the Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne DMA. “Eyewitness News has been the leading brand in this market for a long time,†says Shawn Bartelt, VP/GM.

Central Florida’s economic ills, including skyrocketing unemployment and home foreclosures, appear to be in the past. A recent report reported unemployment in Orange County, the market’s primary county, at 6.5%, well down from the 11.3% reported in 2010. Tourism is booming and the region’s famed theme parks are expanding. “The recession hit central Florida real hard, but the market has come back in a big way,†says Skip Valet, WKMG VP/GM.

Cox Media Group owns WFTV and independent WRDQ; the latter has news at 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Post-Newsweek has CBS affiliate WKMG. Fox owns WOFL and MyNetworkTV O&O WRBW. Hearst Television owns NBC outlet WESH and CW affiliate WKCF; the latter won “Model Affiliate†distinction from The CW for the second time in four years.

Nearly 20% of the population is Hispanic, according to BIA/Kelsey. Spanish-language stations include Entravision’s Univision affiliate WVEN and Univision’s Unimás outlet WOTF.

WFTV won the news races in May, including 11 p.m., its 5.11 household rating/10 share ahead of WKMG's 3.86/7. (WESH was runner-up in the 25-54 race.) WFTV posted a 4.05/11 in July's Zimmerman trial coverage, ahead of WOFL's 2.64/7. The demo race was closer.

WFTV's $87.1 million in 2012 revenue, estimated by BIA/Kelsey, topped surging WESH's $70.5 million. The Big Four stations can be viewed on the Dyle mobile TV platform, though usage in the community remains sparse. "It's a great opportunity for viewers to get it where they want it," says Meyers, "and get everything they want."

WKMG debuts Queen Latifah in the fall. News 13, which provides weather on the 1s, unveils a branding and graphics overhaul this month. WESH has a lively multicast strategy. WFTV extended its 4 p.m. news to an hour during the trial, and will staff up accordingly. "There was so much news coming out of the trial," says Bartelt. "We felt ready and prepared to go with an hour."

Orlando's news pros are "collecting our breath," says Geraghty, after the all-consuming Zimmerman case. "It's one of those stories," he adds, "you remember covering later in your career."

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.