Market Eye: Goin' to Jackson

Jackson may be the No. 90 DMA, but general managers here say it plays larger than that number would indicate. Local news viewing ranks “very high,” according to an index from Frank N. Magid, thanks to an abundance of extreme weather in central Mississippi, along with a lively political arena.

Jackson's news chops were tested May 5, when 10 candidates vied for the mayor's office in a primary. Not only was it Election Day for several offices, but some serious thunderstorms and hail struck Jackson, and Mayor Frank Melton was rushed to the hospital after being found unconscious. (Melton passed away the morning of May 7.) Unofficial results show Melton came in a distant third in the mayoral primary.

Local stations pressed their various distribution systems, whether Twitter, Facebook or text messaging, to cover the breaking news. “We're trying to get the information out when people want it and how they want it,” says WJTV VP/General Manager Bob Romine.

Raycom's WLBT is the news leader, taking total day ratings along with morning, evening and late news in March—the latter with a 16 household rating/32 share, besting Media General CBS affiliate WJTV's 11/21. WLBT VP/General Manager Dan Modisett says the NBC affiliate is able to keep star anchors from moving on. “The station pays a premium to hire talented people and keep them in Jackson,” he says. “That's not easy to do in market 90.”

Primetime champ WJTV and Hearst-Argyle's ABC affiliate WAPT trail WLBT in news; the latest entry is Jackson Television's Fox outlet WDBD, which launched a 9 p.m. news in January. VP/General Manager Leigh White is encouraged by its growth. “It's fresh and it's new and it's different,” she says.

Jackson is rounded out by Roberts Broadcasting's CW affiliate, WRBJ. White also oversees Mississippi Television's MyNetworkTV affiliate WUFX and an independent.

Business is slumping, but Jackson is bolstered by a large number of government jobs and a robust medical community. “It's a tough year, but I think the market is doing better than the national average,” says WAPT President/General Manager Stuart Kellogg.

Stations are expanding their local reach. WJTV has a lively Twitter presence. WLBT manages a statewide news service covering the six Mississippi TV markets. WAPT aired a live mayoral debate on its digital channel. WDBD, which shut off its analog signal in early May, is looking at an early summer launch for evening news.

The general managers offer effusive praise for Jackson, whether it's the warm weather, an abundance of excellent restaurants or the Southern charm. “The hospitality, the friendliness, the openness is almost overwhelming,” Romine says. “I wouldn't trade it for anything.”

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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.