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Market Eye: Maine Attractions

Patience is a virtue—and something of a requirement—in Portland- Auburn, Maine. A station that made a splashy launch in September will have to wait until the November sweeps results are in later this month to see how the new product is being received in DMA No. 80. The Nielsen diary market may switch to electronic measurement within a year or two—at least that’s what Portland TV execs hope. “It’s going to be exciting when that arrives,” says Steve Carter, president and GM of WCSH. (A Nielsen representative did not respond to a request for comment.)

Carter does not need to wait until the ratings book arrives to know how WCSH, one of the powerhouse NBC affiliates in the U.S., is faring. The Gannett station has a unique bond with viewers in southern Maine. Its household share from 6-7 a.m. in the May sweeps was 40.4. Its share at 6 p.m.— the newscast of record in early-to-bed Portland— was 35.3, more than double CBS affiliate WGME’s. WGME, the easy May winner in primetime, did draw level with WCSH in late news household ratings, while the NBC affiliate won the 25-54 demo.

WCSH tallied an estimated $21.4 million in 2012 revenue, says BIA/Kelsey, ahead of WGME’s $14.9 million. Portland-Auburn has one of the least diverse populations in the nation: 95.1% of its residents are white, reports BIA/Kelsey, with 1.7% black, 1.5% of Hispanic origin and 1.3% Asian.

WCSH turns 60 this month. The station first broadcast out of the Congress Square Hotel (that’s where the call letters come from) on Dec. 20, 1953. WCSH thrives on long-running anchor tenures—really long-running anchor tenures. The core four— Cindy Williams, Pat Callaghan, Joe Cupo and Bruce Glasier—put in 25 years together before sports director Glasier retired last year. “Everyone here does a good job of covering news in Maine,” Carter says. “But who you want to get your news from are those who are most familiar to you.”

WGME is getting stronger. Parent Sinclair Broadcast Group recently expanded its holdings in Portland by acquiring the non-license assets of Fox affiliate WPFO for $13.6 million, expanding an existing news partnership. Sinclair will provide services to WPFO. General manager Doug Finck exited after the deal.

Hearst Television owns ABC affiliate WMTW. Ironwood Communications owns CW affiliate WPXT, while closely aligned Cottonwood Communications holds MyNetworkTV affiliate WPME; the pair air a bevy of homespun local shows. Time Warner Cable is the DMA’s primary subscription TV operator.

ABC Affiliate’s Extreme Makeover

WMTW underwent a significant overhaul this fall. The station launched a 5-6 p.m. news, moving Dr. Phil to 3 p.m. It also added new graphics and new touches in the studio, as well as fresh branding that plays up weather—“Maine’s total weather and news station” taking the place of the verbose “Top news and a complete forecast in the first 8 minutes.”

“We had quite a busy day on the 9th [of September],” says Dave Abel, WMTW president and general manager.

A population exodus has been an issue in Portland- Auburn. The market, a shipbuilding hub, dropped to No. 77 in 2011 after being No. 74 in 2006. But local TV executives say the ad business has been solid in 2013; the market’s revenue rank is a respectable No. 82. “Our local clients have positive stories to report,” says Carter. “It does look brighter.”

While Portland and Boston are about 110 miles apart, Maine celebrated long and hard when the Red Sox took the World Series title in October. Though Abel won’t see ratings for a bit, he says viewers made it known that they appreciated WMTW airing the championship parade in Boston. “Many viewers,” he says, “sent notes that said thank you.”



WCSH’s popular newsmag 207, which takes its name from Portland’s area code, celebrated turning 10 in style recently. The anniversary episode was shot live at the Port City Music Hall on Sept. 24, featuring a variety of chefs, comedians, music from the Rhythm Kings and highlight clips from years past.

Airing weeknights at 7 p.m., 207 is “a statewide look at what is happening,” says Steve Carter, WCSH president and general manager, who likens it to a local version of the late PM Magazine. The program, produced out of the WCSH news department, earned a 4.9 household rating/10.4 share in the May sweeps, trailing only Wheel of Fortune on WMTW.

The show often features celebrities who spend part of their summer vacations in southern Maine, such as former President Bill Clinton. “It’s a great opportunity to do a local television show that showcases the community besides the news of the day,” says Carter. “And it’s good news.”