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Market Eye: Keeping Up the Pace in Indy

Indianapolis has always been a sports-mad town, but there's been an interesting shift of late. As football's Colts have emerged and basketball's Pacers have slumped, the region's obsession with hoops-detailed in the classic film Hoosiers-has taken a back seat to gridiron glory.

"Everything has changed," says WXIN-WTTV VP/General Manager Jerry Martin, who picked up two Colts games this season that aired on NFL Network. "The talk is football now." The news outlets are as competitive as Peyton Manning and his mates. Dispatch's NBC affiliate WTHR and LIN's CBS outlet WISH offer one of the great matchups in local news. WISH won late news in November thanks to CBS' booming prime (tops in the market, ahead of ABC outlet WRTV), NBC's well-documented struggles with Jay Leno and a more aggressive on-air product; its 6.9 household rating/14 share at 11 topped WTHR's 5.5/11.

WISH President/General Manager Jeff White credits new news director Patti McGettigan, recently of WOOD Grand Rapids, for bringing more grit to the WISH newsroom. "With her aggressive nature, she's making sure the reporters are out there every day," White says, "unearthing stories and going deeper."

But WTHR remains a power, taking the 2008 revenue race with $59 million, according to BIA/Kelsey, better than WISH's $44.4 million. WTHR won total day household ratings, along with morning and early evening news. President/General Manager Jim Tellus credits being part of a small, privately held company, which helps WTHR attract and retain top talent, as well as blue-chip syndicated shows such as Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey. "We can afford the resources that other stations don't receive," he says. "I've seen other groups try to slash their way to ratings success; it's not [Dispatch's] philosophy."

Also in the hunt in DMA No. 25 are McGraw-Hill's WRTV, Tribune's Fox-CW duopoly WXIN and WTTV (the latter recently marked its 60th anniversary), LIN's MyNetworkTV station WNDY and LeSEA's independent Christian station WHMB. They're hardly content to let WISH and WTHR fight for supremacy: WXIN, for example, expanded its morning newscast to 4½ hours in August and then to 5½ hours in early January. WXIN also launched a 4 p.m. news in August and debuted local HD in October. "The 4 p.m. news is profitable, and it's meeting its ratings targets," Martin says.

WRTV features a new news brand with an emphasis on advocacy, and a dedicated "watchdog team" on the hunt for civic corruption. "We turned it up a notch and we're asking tougher questions," says General Manager Don Lundy. "There's an appetite here for more accountability from people in government."

Indianapolis may not have suffered the same degree of economic misery that much of the Midwest felt, but the last few years have been grim. General managers say business is picking up in 2010, and the midterm election political season looks hot. "I think both sides smell blood in the water and will spend some money," Tellus points out.

Residents describe Indy as affordable, friendly and rich in cultural offerings. Then there's the sports scene. Besides basketball, football and, of course, motor sports (Indianapolis hosts a little race called the Indianapolis 500), the city is called the Amateur Sports Capital of the World and is home to U.S. gymnastics' governing body, among others.

Athletics dominates the TV landscape. WTHR will send a crew of eight to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics next month (see Station to Station, p. 18). WNDY has a production trailer for high school and Butler University games; WISH, which airs most of the Colts games, ran the halftime show at a Colts- Jets game in late December when it saluted the region's good citizens as part of its Hoosiers Helping Hoosiers program.

Tribune's duopoly has had more Anne Marie Tiernon, John Stehr, Andrea Morehead and Scott Swan give Indianapolis viewers a reason to turn to Dispatch's NBC affiliate WTHR. than 1.7 million page views on Indysportsnation. com since it launched last spring. Even Christian station WHMB is in on the game. "We've been doing the High School Game of the Week for 20 years," says General Manager Keith Passon.

All local news outlets-not to mention residents-will be out in force when Indianapolis hosts its first Super Bowl in 2012. With any luck, the local boys will be in the big game. "The city is a big sports town," Tellus says, "and the Colts are top of the heap."

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Michael Malone
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.