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Market Eye: King of the ‘Roads’

Despite the concrete flavor of its name, Hampton Roads is the moniker given to the harbor-filled expanse that connects the Norfolk, Va., region’s various bodies of water and its attendant cities. LIN giant WAVY has long played a similar role in the area, its newscasts tying residents of Norfolk–Portsmouth–Newport News together for decades.

“There are a lot of ‘On Your Side’ stations in the country, but we actually deliver,” says Doug Davis, WAVY president and general manager. “We’re advocating for viewers in a genuine way.”

Yet the news race has tightened considerably, as Belo’s ABC affiliate WVEC and Local TV’s CBS outlet WTKR have upped their games in the region. “There’s great competition in town—things are more competitive than historically,” concedes Davis. “You’ve got to work that much harder.”

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WVEC won total day household ratings, primetime and the 5 and 5:30 p.m. races in the May sweeps. WAVY won morning and 6 p.m. news and retained the late news lead with a 6.6 household rating/11.5 share, ahead of WTKR’s 5.6/9.7 (WVEC trailed WTKR by a tenth of a point in ratings and share). WAVY’s $27.9 million in 2010 revenue beat WVEC’s $24.7 million, according to BIA/Kelsey.

LIN also owns Fox affiliate WVBT, and Local TV recently marked the first anniversary of its $16.5 million acquisition of CW affiliate WGNT. Sinclair owns MyNetworkTV affiliate WTVZ, which did not have a general manager at presstime. Cox is the main subscription TV operator.

The region is surrounded by water, and the competition smells blood in it. Jeff Hoffman, president and general manager of WTKRWGNT, says the CW grab has been vital for Local TV’s local presence. “It adds 10% of [revenue] share for us,” says Hoffman. “It gives us a greater variety of demos to program to and serve advertisers with.”

WGNT will debut a 7-9 a.m. news later this month, called NewsChannel 3 on GNT. Hoffman credits news director Tina Luque-Blacklocke with sparking the newsroom, which has increased its coverage of local military affairs.

WVEC remains the only player with live news at 4:30 a.m. The station is bullish on its digital strategy, with mobile apps informing users on everything from severe weather to traffic. “It’s an exciting time in our business,” says Todd Smith, WVEC president and general manager. “There are so many ways to contact users and viewers.”

The LIN stations have a new news director in Jim Gilchriest, who recently arrived from Belo’s monster KTVB in Boise, Idaho. Gilchriest succeeds April Samp after her 10-month run.

There’s a battle shaping up at 4 p.m., as WAVY is introducing Anderson Cooper’s new daytime show in that slot. WTKR debuted a newscast a few years ago with Oprah Winfrey’s eventual departure in mind. She leaves WVEC, which has slotted Dr. Oz. WGNT, meanwhile, offers Dr. Phil at 4. “We feel like we’re in a position to really compete now that the playing field has been leveled,” says WTKR’s Hoffman.

The military is a huge driver in DMA No. 43. The Navy SEALS train in the area, which is home to Naval Station Norfolk and Langley Air Force Base. (Sadly, many SEALS killed in the Aug. 5 helicopter crash in Afghanistan had Hampton Roads roots.) Military means heavy population churn, which spells opportunity for WAVY’s rivals. “You have a chance to have new people sample your product,” says Hoffman. “You can impress people if you’re doing things differently, more than in the more provincial markets.”

But WAVY is confi dent it can continue to rule Hampton Roads. “We feel like we’re doing the right things in each daypart,” Davis says, “to maintain our lead.”

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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.