Market Eye: New Life in Charlotte

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Stations are rebranding in Charlotte, N.C., to reflect closer relationships with their affiliated networks and, in one case, a split with the net. Last fall, WCNC dropped its Newschannel 36 branding in favor of the bold “NBC Charlotte,” a handle that was indicative of the network’s triumphant, albeit shortlived, return to primetime eminence.

Across the street, WCCB goes by “Fox Charlotte,” though not for long. In January, Fox served WCCB with divorce papers when the network agreed to buy WJZY-WMYT for $18 million from Capitol Broadcasting; the net will turn one of the two stations into a Fox O&O. WCCB, which will split from Fox on July 1, is already making some breaks. Its 10:35 p.m. talk show Fox News Edge now goes by the name WCCB News Edge.

Jim White, WCCB VP and general manager, says staffers were shocked when they got the news about Fox but are staying the course as parent Bahakel Communications plots its next move. Insiders suspect WCCB will go independent, but White said no decisions have been made. “We have several options and we’re vetting them all,” White said. Whatever the change is, we’ll embrace it.”

It’s been a lively time in DMA No. 25. Charlotte hosted the 2012 Democratic National Convention, an event that pumped a reported $150 million into the local economy. Stations put their best foot forward to greet the delegates and other visitors. WSOC, for one, trotted out a new set and graphics package.

Cox Media Group’s WSOC is a longtime leader in Charlotte. “WSOC’s commitment to providing relevant, investigative local news is why our viewers continue to trust us,” said Joe Pomilla, WSOC VP and general manager.

Cox also owns independent WAXN.

It’s a heck of a ratings race. WSOC and Raycom CBS affiliate WBTV were virtually tied in total-day ratings (household and adults 25-54) for the February sweeps. WBTV won primetime by a landslide and grabbed the 11 p.m. news race in households, its 6.3 rating/12.9 share a little better than WSOC’s 6/12.2. The two were virtually deadlocked in the 25-54 late news race. WSOC won early evenings and a.m. news.

WBTV thrives on CBS’ rocking primetime and a comprehensive local approach that includes 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. newscasts and two editorials per week delivered by Nick Simonette, VP and general manager. “We’re creating a conversation in the market,” Simonette said. “We’re getting the market to talk about its issues and challenges.”

An editorial board offers input on the GM’s “Speak Out” segments. A recent one examined the concept of year-round school in Charlotte.

Belo owns NBC affiliate WCNC. The station introduced a new set before the Olympics last July. In late 2011, WCNC debuted the tagline “Looking Out for You.” Research showed a need for a local news watchdog, said Corrie Harding, WCNC executive news director. “People in Charlotte were concerned that no one was looking out for their interests,” Harding said. “It was an opportunity for us to really get a toehold and try to grow a bit.”

When WCNC switched to the NBC Charlotte branding, the network’s primetime was booming on the backs of The Voice and Sunday Night Football. Then came NBC’s plummet back to the primetime basement. Harding says the new branding shows a long-term commitment to the network and attributes such as the Olympics, a strong summer slate and those fall cornerstones. “We’re not being reflexive in our reaction to one sweeps month,” he said.

Those are not the only local outlets going through a rebrand. In its 11th year on the air, Time Warner Cable’s News 14 is likely to switch to Time Warner Cable News, though Alan Mason, VP and general manager, says talks on the matter are ongoing. News 14’s topical talk show Capital Tonight debuted a year ago, and Mason says the convention played to the channel’s strengths. “Politics is a huge emphasis of ours here,” he said.

The Charlotte economy appears stable. MetLife is moving into the market, bringing in a whopping 1,300 jobs. “We’re optimistic that things are getting better in ’13,” said Mason.

WJZY is a CW affiliate and WMYT is a MyNetworkTV station. One will take over the Fox affiliation upon Fox getting regulatory approval for its acquisition. Karen Adams, former GM at WGHP Greensboro (N.C.), recently took over the stations. She was not available to speak, as Fox had not closed on the deal at presstime.

WBTV has a contract to produce the news for WMYT through 2013.

All eyes are on the affiliation switch; some competitors privately say the state of flux spells opportunity for them. White hopes to maintain head count at the new WCCB. “There are 22 hours a day that we’re not Fox,” he said. “It’s not like we have to rebuild the station.”

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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.