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NBC’s primetime began 2013 with considerable momentum, which was a big boost for Richmond-Petersburg, Va., market leader WWBT. But the local competition has elevated their ratings as well. Stations owned by Young Broadcasting, Local TV and Sinclair are making a significant push to dethrone the Raycom-owned leader. “With each [ratings] book, it gets more and more competitive,” concedes Kym Grinnage, WWBT VP and general manager.
The Young stations have been re-energized post-bankruptcy. Viki Regan, formerly the GM at WEWS Cleveland, stepped into a favorable situation when she took over at ABC affiliate WRIC in early December, following Bob Peterson’s promotion to corporate. “They’re such incredible gifts to walk into,” Regan says, noting a 42% gain in adults 25-54 ratings at 11 p.m. from November 2011 to November 2012, among other time-slot growth. “Every newscast we produce is up dramatically. The momentum here is great.”
WTVR, the CBS affiliate, is pushing a local agenda that includes the 9 a.m. Virginia This Morning, a 7 p.m. news and even a Saturday-morning quiz show. “We continue to develop local program streams,” says Stephen Hayes, WTVR president and general manager. “It’s where the business is going for local affiliates.”
Yet no one will be taking down WWBT anytime soon. The station won the major ratings races in November, including late news with an 8.3 household rating/14.4 share—ahead of WTVR’s 7/12.3. (WWBT also won the 25-54 race at 11 p.m., handily.)
WWBT thrives on comprehensive research that shapes its evolving strategy; Grinnage credits the consulting firm SmithGeiger for helping find the right content for the right daypart. “We use a lot of research to stay in touch with what the audience says it wants in terms of news,” Grinnage says, “and our approach to how we deliver news to them.”
An ensemble news team, Grinnage adds, is also key at WWBT, as opposed to a star anchor and supporting cast.
Not everyone in DMA No. 57 had access to the news leader when 2013 was ushered in. Raycom was involved in a retransmission showdown with cable provider Cox that resulted in the first retrans-related station blackout in Raycom’s history, according to Paul McTear, president and CEO. But the WWBT signal shutdown for Cox subscribers only lasted two days and affected fewer than than 3,000 households.
“Most people understand, but they’re still frustrated,” Grinnage says of calls he received. “They blame both sides.”
Comcast and Verizon FiOS are the major subscription- TV operators in Richmond-Petersburg. Sinclair owns Fox affiliate WRLH. American Spirit Media owns CW affiliate WUPV, which has a shared services agreement, and shares a building, with WWBT. WUPV airs Bounce TV on its dot-two.
The market is in solid shape, local station executives say, with unemployment significantly below the national average. Being the state capital helps keep employment stable, as does the presence of major corporations such as tobacco outfit Altria and packaging firm MeadWestvaco.
While the Washington Redskins’ season hobbled to a halt in the first round of the playoffs, the NFL team’s next appearance will be in Richmond; the club has moved training camp there for summer 2013.
“It means a big economic impact and a lot of excitement for the area,” Hayes says.
The 3 p.m. battle has been a hot one. Regan says Steve Harvey has its strongest 3 p.m. showing in the nation on WRIC. WTVR management is bullish on Ellen, while WWBT’s wants some improvement from Katie. Grinnage calls Couric a “formidable talent,” but the ratings have not been substantial. “I wouldn’t characterize November as a good book for her, but there’s room for growth,” he says. “I would like to have a bigger boost at 3 p.m.”
Moving on to 4 p.m., Hayes says Dr. Oz is a particularly good fit for WTVR, which features a dedicated health reporter and seeks to own the wellness category.
The Richmond stations are trying some new things to stand out. Gene Cox, an anchor at WWBT for 33 years, last August moved over to WRIC to anchor the 5:30 p.m. news; a WRIC announcement called him “a Richmond broadcasting legend.” Regan says it’s indicative of Young’s commitment to talent. “Young’s done the right thing,” she says. “They are dedicated.”
WTVR is pushing viewers to its multicast channels, with weather on one and classic hits digi-net Antenna TV on another. Hayes says the station may turn the weather channel into more of a general-news outlet.
WWBT has hired a social media manager and features news and weather apps. “We’re trying to attract a younger demo,” Grinnage says. “That’s the future for us.”
The future likely also holds more ratings titles for forwardthinking WWBT. “We are the largest news organization in the market,” Grinnage adds. “The audience trusts us to give them the news as objectively as possible.”
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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.