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Market Eye: It Ain't Easy Being Green

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Burlington-Plattsburgh has a brain drain issue, evidenced by the market slipping this year from DMA No. 95 to 97. And there’s not much indication that it can stem the slide. People flocked to the Green Mountain State market to raise families decades ago, say the area’s residents, when the major East Coast cities were crime ridden. Now that those metropolises are more attractive, Burlington-Plattsburgh’s young people are heading to them—leaving an aging, and shrinking, population.

“A demographic bomb has gone off,” says Peter Martin, president and general manager of Burlington-based WCAX. “There seems to be a steady flow of young people out of the state. If they stay in Vermont, how do they make a career in a state of 620,000 people?”

One key person moving in the opposite direction is Kyle Grimes. Grimes, executive producer and then news director at Hearst TV’s WPTZ Plattsburgh from 2003-08, came back to the market last summer to succeed the retiring Paul Sands atop the station. “The sense of community is real strong here,” Grimes says.

It’s a two-horse race in Burlington-Plattsburgh, and WCAX, a CBS affiliate, wins. WCAX is owned by Mount Mansfield TV (it’s the company’s only station), and it punches well above its weight—grabbing a prestigious DuPont award for its investigative work in 2010. Martin says WCAX thrives on the tenure of its staff and a dedication to covering the vast corners of the market, which includes not only chunks of Vermont and New York but a piece of New Hampshire as well.

And WCAX is dogged in its coverage of legislative action out of Montpelier, Vermont’s capital. “Our signal defines the market,” says Martin. “We are an important medium by which the state talks to itself.”

WPTZ airs NBC programming. Lambert Broadcasting owns ABC affiliate WVNY, which is operated by Smith Media’s Fox affiliate WFFF. Earlier this month, Nexstar and Mission Broadcasting agreed to acquire WFFF-WVNY for $17.1 million, with Nexstar/Mission agreeing to provide sales and other services to WVNY upon the deal’s closing. Steve Doerr is GM of the stations, which share a mouthful of a website at WVNY dropped news in 2003, but it now features a full slate of local newscasts. "It's a very user-friendly brand," says Steve Doerr, vice president and group manager of Smith Media's New York/New England region. "People seem to be responding to it."

The CW airs on WFFF’s dot-two.

Comcast is the market’s major subscription TV operator, while Charter and Time Warner Cable have a presence as well.

WCAX ran the sweeps table in May. Its 4.2 household rating/21.2 share at 11 p.m. topped WPTZ’s 3.2/16.2.

The geographic spread in Burlington- Plattsburgh is daunting. Martin chafes at the word “market” to describe the DMA, which contains several distinct sub-markets, and lots of rural areas—the city of Burlington has but 43,000 people. “We are out and about and in the countryside a lot,” says Martin.

The top news stations have multiple facilities to cover the DMA. Plattsburgh-based WPTZ has offices near Burlington and in White River Junction, on the Vermont-New Hampshire border. “The sensibilities of New York and Vermont and New Hampshire are somewhat different,” says Grimes. “There are geographic challenges you don’t see in other markets.”

Major employers include government, the University of Vermont, a medical center and IBM. TV stations saw some political spending this year, thanks to candidates looking to reach New Hampshire’s undecided voters.

Grimes is in “evaluation-of-everything mode,” he says, with an eye on taking down tough WCAX. WPTZ pushes an aggressive news brand, including coverage of the severe weather that defines the region.

“The market has its share of snow and cold weather,” says Grimes, who was previously in West Palm Beach, Fla. “But it’s a great place to live.”

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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.