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Market Eye: Good Night, Irene

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The knocking you hear coming out of Greenville-New Bern-Washington, N.C., is the sound of people touching wood as a blessedly uneventful hurricane season progresses. The market bore the brunt of Hurricane Irene in summer 2011, and some areas of the region are still cleaning up. “Parts of our viewing area are still very much in recovery mode,” says Lyle Schulze, vice president and general manager of WCTI. “[Irene] parked itself here for 12 hours when it made landfall. We just got hammered.”

While it was a wet summer, DMA No. 100 thus far has been free of extreme weather. “Knock on wood,” say both Schulze and Chris Mossman, WITN VP/GM.

Irene did spark a construction boom, and compelled people to buy new vehicles, furniture and even homes after the storm’s destruction. Core business was up around 15% in the first half of 2012. “It ended up being pretty good for the economy,” says Mossman.

Speaking of new homes, WITN is having one built. The station is shifting its address from tiny Chocowinity to Greenville—the largest city in the DMA. Mossman is aiming to be in the new digs in the first quarter, when the NBC affiliate plans to launching local HD. A webcam shows the building’s real-time progress.

For its part, Bonten Media’s ABC affiliate WCTI, along with Fox-aligned WFXI, which WCTI manages through a shared services agreement, have been HD for some time. “We’ve been the leader on that initiative for two years now,” says Schulze. “A lot of stations at this level are still waiting for that to happen.”

WITN aims to extend its market leadership with the HD adoption. The station won total day household ratings, along with morning and early evening news, in the May sweeps. WNCT, a CBS affiliate owned by Media General, won primetime easily. WCTI took late news, its 5 household rating/16 share ahead of WITN’s 4.8/16. WNCT grabbed the 25-54 ratings crown at 11 p.m.

Gray Television-owned WITN thrives on the extended tenure of its talent, including a news director with a dozen years at the station and anchors averaging about a decade. “The other guys in the market are not in the same situation,” Mossman says.

Mossman earned B&C’s General Manager of the Year honors in 2011 for his stewardship during Irene, which included 63½ straight hours of live coverage. The station airs a MyNetworkTV/Me-TV hybrid on its dot-two, but will give both their own slot when the new facility is open. Esteem Broadcasting owns WFXI and a repeater, WYDO. Last month, Scott Nichols was named news director for Bonten’s TV properties in the market.

The primary subscription TV operators are Time Warner Cable and Suddenlink. The market slipped a slot to No. 100 in the most recent Nielsen DMA rankings. Its revenue rank, according to BIA/Kelsey, is No. 107.

A batch of military bases, including the Marine Corps giant Camp Lejeune, helps steady the economy. “When the troop deployments come home, there’s a lot of spending that goes on in that household,” says Schulze.

The stations are increasing their offerings to get an advantage. WITN has syndication rookies Steve Harvey and Ricki Lake and has expanded its sports programming, including Carolina Panthers preseason games. WCTI is marking one year with its 5:30 p.m. newscast. Schulze plans to increase the news WCTI produces for the Fox affiliate beyond 10 p.m. next year. WCTI-WFXI offer Live Well, This TV and Bounce TV on their multicast tiers.

North Carolina is a jump ball in the presidential election, spelling major spending this fall. “No hurricanes, and some political [revenue] coming our way,” says Mossman. “We’ve got nothing to complain about.”

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