Market Eye: King of Carolina

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What do San Diego, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Charlotte have in common? All have been overtaken in recent years by Raleigh- Durham in the Nielsen DMA rankings.

The Raleigh-Durham market, which includes Fayetteville, leapfrogged Charlotte for No. 24 on the 2011-12 lineup, bringing the region its North Carolina TV bragging rights. “Now we’re the largest DMA in the state,” says John Idler, WTVD president and general manager.

Things are humming in central North Carolina, home of the so-called Research Triangle that encompasses Duke University, the University of North Carolina and N.C. State. As befits a brainy market, the TV stations are technologically savvy and sharp with their news product—none more so than WRAL, which enjoys local ownership in Capitol Broadcasting. The station won all the major races in the November sweeps, including late news with a 9 household rating/16 share, topping WTVD’s 7.7/14.

WRAL thrives on CBS primetime, a robust mobile strategy (the station’s content has been simulcast on city buses since 2009) and a strong weather crew headed by Greg Fishel, who has been at the station since 1981. “Weather is always a big deal here,” says Steve Hammel, WRAL vice president and general manager. “Greg is exceedingly well known. If significant weather happens, people know to tune in to our weather team.”

WTVD, owned by ABC, is a sanguine competitor and runner-up in all the key races. WTVD also sees itself as a weather leader, and recently added Don Schwenneker to chief meteorologist Chris Hohmann’s team. Idler uses words such as “importance” and “immediacy” to describe the station’s content, and points out that WTVD was the only station to grow morning ratings in November.

WRAL won the 2010 revenue race, according to BIA/Kelsey, its estimated $43.3 million ahead of WTVD’s $39.4 million. Capitol also owns Fox affiliate WRAZ, which won a prestigious Service to America award this year. Media General has NBC affiliate WNCN. Sinclair owns CW outlet WLFL and MyNetworkTV-aligned WRDC. Univision has WUVC and TeleFutura outlet WTNC; WUVC debuted 6 and 11 p.m. news this year.

Time Warner Cable is the major subscription TV operator. Its News 14 Carolina has around 80 people in its Raleigh operation, which turns 10 in March. News 14 is gearing up to produce newscasts for Sinclair in the nearby Greensboro DMA. “If [viewers] like it and want to see it on 24 hours, they can come to Time Warner Cable,” says Alan Mason, vice president and general manager of News 14 Carolina.

Raleigh is the state capital; besides the government, major employers include IBM, Lenovo and the military. Next year looks to be a political windfall for local stations. “You can’t really talk about 2012 in this state without talking about political,” says Idler.

Stations are doing their best to get ahead. WNCN, which has the market’s only 7 p.m. newscast, will launch Jeff Probst’s new syndicated talk show next fall. The station also plans to launch mobile DTV in January. “I like the fact that we’re skating to where the puck’s going to be,” says Brad Moses, VP/GM.

WRAL produces news for WRAZ, which will expand its 10 p.m. newscast, WRAL News on Fox 50, to an hour on Jan. 3. The stations will be physically side-by-side when WRAZ moves out of Durham to Raleigh around the middle of 2012. “We’ll maintain a bureau in Durham,” says Tommy Schenck, WRAZ vice president and general manager.

WRAZ is among the top Fox affiliates in primetime ratings; “Fox50” is an American Idol power.

Local TV executives say optimism abounds in Raleigh-Durham. “In a lot of markets, people are down in the dumps,” says Moses of WNCN. “Here, everyone talks about how tomorrow is going to be better. I think that plays well for the market.”

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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.