Market Eye: Life of the ‘Party’ in Tampa

Politics has always been a popular spectator sport in Tampa, and the market will have front-row seats when the Republican Party holds its quadrennial convention there in 2012. General managers in Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota say DMA No. 14 will make the most of its moment in the sun. “It’s a great opportunity to put us on the national stage,” says WTVT VP/General Manager Bill Schneider. “It validates that this is a pretty cool place.”

Political chatter was running hot even before the Republican Party tapped Tampa on May 12, with Florida’s governor and senator races wide open. The stations are eager to capitalize on the political advertising. “The next couple of years are going to be a political bonanza in this market,” says Bright House Corporate News and Local Programming VP Elliott Wiser, who oversees cable’s Bay News 9.

Tampa features a lively batch of hyper-competitive TV outlets, several with a claim to primacy. Media General’s NBC affiliate WFLA, which shares a newsroom with the Tampa Tribune, grabbed evening news in February, and took total day household ratings and primetime on the strength of its Olympic performance. Fox-owned WTVT won mornings. Gannett CBS outlet WTSP won the 11 p.m. race, its 4.1 rating/8.4 share ahead of WFLA’s 3.3 rating/7 share. WTVT posted a 4.9/8.2 at 10.

WFLA led in 2009 revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, its $61.63 million topping WTVT’s $59.73 million.

Rounding out the market are Scripps’ ABC affiliate WFTS, CBS-owned CW affiliate WTOG, Sinclair’s MyNetworkTV outlet WTTA, Entravision’s Univision outlet WVEA and Hearst’s independent WMOR. WTOG is “strictly entertainment,” says Station Manager Laura Caruso, and goes local on Sunday nights with Sports Roundup With J.P. Peterson.

WMOR offers This TV and Estrella TV on its digital tier. “We’re a pure-play independent,” says President/General Manager Ken Lucas. “There aren’t many of us.”

It’s been a rough economic stretch in Tampa, with still-depressed home values and sky-high unemployment. “Compared to the rest of the country that’s already rebounding,” says Caruso, “we’re just kind of getting started.”

The news stations are hustling for an advantage. WTVT launched a 9 a.m. news in March. WFTS debuted weekend morning news last spring, and is focused on weekday mornings, too. “I think all the stations see opportunity there,” says VP/General Manager Rich Pegram.

WFLA no longer has a general manager, in favor of chiefs overseeing various departments for the joint newsroom. North says WFLA’s resources are massive. “When you combine a big-city newspaper with an already healthy newsroom, that’s a lot of folks,” he says.

WTSP is working on a 5:30 p.m. news scheduled to launch on June 7. President/General Manager Ken Tonning says the station offers an advocacy approach. “We not only report problems, but help find solutions,” he says.

The Bright House Sports Network features college sports, arena football and dozens of high school games. “It’s a testament to how big local sports—and high school sports in particular— has become here,” Wiser says.

With slim margins in several races, Tampa stations fight for No. 1 each day. “It’s a good, competitive market,” Tonning says. “I think everything is up for grabs.”

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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, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.