Market Eye: Jump-Starting Motown

It's hard to overstate just how rough things are in Detroit: the 29% unemployment rate, the increasingly barren stretches, the NFL squad that went the whole of 2008 without a win. Most troubling was the ignominious collapse of the city's famed auto industry earlier this year. “We've been eyewitnesses to the economic crisis,” says WDIV VP/General Manager Marla Drutz.

General managers in the No. 11 DMA say 2010 looks to be a lot better. Civic projects backed by stimulus money are popping up, some automotive plants are hiring, the local alternative energy industry is growing, and a governor's race will kick cash to station coffers. A sense of optimism rises above the misery, some of it fueled by press about the city's plans to rebound, such as the Time magazine cover story dated Oct. 5. “When the headlines are positive, it really changes the mindset of the people who live here,” says WWJ/WKBD VP/General Manager Trey Fabacher.

Despite the city's four-decade-long population exodus, the greater DMA added a few thousand bodies in the last five years, according to BIA Financial. It's a lively news market. Scripps ABC outlet WXYZ won total-day household ratings in May, edging out Post-Newsweek NBC affiliate WDIV and Fox O&O WJBK. WXYZ won primetime, while WDIV took evening and 11 p.m. news, the latter with a 9.1 rating/17 share, ahead of XYZ's 7.3/13. WJBK posted an 8.5/14 at 10, and owns mornings.

WXYZ took the 2008 revenue race with $80.2 million, reports BIA, just ahead of WJBK. Other local players include Granite's MyNetworkTV outlet WMYD and Adell Broadcasting's urban-themed independent, WADL.

All are trying new things for fall. WDIV airs Dr. Oz at 3 p.m., and WJBK added an hour to its morning news after the cancellation of Mike and Juliet. VP/General Manager Jeff Murri says the 5½-hour Fox 2 News Morning can go deeper on stories, air more community voices and offer more performances from touring acts. “The best way for us to serve the market is to add more local news,” he says.

Market loyalty plays big in Detroit. WJBK unveiled its “Made in Michigan” series, spotlighting local merchants, in its newscasts this fall. WWJ partners with Detroit FreePress on news content; the CBS O&O airs the weather and traffic-heavy First Forecast Mornings from 5-7 a.m., with hard news updates on the quarter hour. 

WADL airs vintage hits such as Good Times and Sanford and Son, but adds local flavor with “60 Seconds With the Mayor” and three live city council debates in October. “It's a great way to endear us to the community,” says President/General Manager Lewis Gibbs.

Detroit residents have learned to keep their chins up in tough times. Says Drutz: “We are resilient people.”

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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.