Nashville isn't exactly skating through the nation's economic malaise. But general managers in the No. 29 DMA say the market is in relatively strong shape, thanks to a diverse economy that includes a substantial health-care industry, manufacturing and, of course, the entertainment business that gave Music City its nickname.
“People here are very positive about the economy,” says WSMV VP/General Manager Elden Hale. “We haven't seen the flurry of layoffs that other markets have. It doesn't seem to have affected us as deeply.”
That's not to say the Nashville stations aren't feeling it; business is down around 20% from last year. ABC affiliate WKRN's parent, Young Broadcasting, is selling its stations out of bankruptcy court to a consortium of banks; Gray Television will manage seven of them, including WKRN, after the deal closes.
WTVF felt the credit crunch's effects firsthand. Landmark's CBS affiliate was to be dealt to Bonten Media last fall, but the collapse of Lehman Brothers blew up the deal. Landmark will revisit divestment options when the economy rebounds; until then, WTVF employees keep plugging away. “I think they're pleased to be with a company they know,” says WTVF President/General Manager Debbie Turner, “particularly in these tough times.”
WTVF had a convincing May sweeps, winning total day household ratings, primetime, morning and late news; its 13.0 rating/21 share at 10 p.m. topped NBC affiliate WSMV's 11.1/18. WSMV had the top early evening news with its 6 p.m. program. Other stations include Sinclair's Fox-MyNetworkTV duopoly, WZTV and WUXP, and Lambert's CW outlet, WNAB.
According to BIA Financial, WTVF won the 2008 revenue race, its $42.6 million besting Meredith-owned WSMV's $35.9 million. WTVF, which is still working out problems stemming from its shift to a VHF signal in June, named station veteran Sandy Boonstra news director after Mike Cutler retired last year. Turner credits Boonstra for pumping up the station's investigative work. “We've broken some huge stories this year,” she says, referring to the murder of former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, and another scoop about a PR firm spending exorbitant amounts of city funds on a convention center project.
Nashville was saddened by the death of longtime WSMV anchor Dan Miller, the victim of a heart attack in April. But people are excited about the start of the NFL season, even with the Titans suffering an overtime loss to the Super Bowl champ Steelers on opening night.
Hale is pumped to have three Titans games on Sunday Night Football this season. “The spot rate is three times what we got last year,” he says—another indication that Nashville stands on solid footing.
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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.