Market Eye: 'The' One to Watch In Jacksonville

WJXT has maintained a market-leading position despite parting ways with its partner network some years back, and it continues to stand tall against duopolies with reinvigorated strategies and wellheeled parent companies. The independent station thrives on established anchors and a crystal-clear sense of self. “We know who we are, we like who we are and we service the viewers of Jacksonville,” says Bob Ellis, VP and general manager.

Around these parts, “the” is often pronounced “thee” when preceding a station’s description. WJXT is “the local TV station,” according to its branding. WCWJ, meanwhile, is “the station for local sports and entertainment,” says Marc Hefner, general manager.

WJXT fights the fight every daypart in northeastern Florida, with increased competition coming from Gannett’s WTLV-WJXX, an NBC-ABC pair that operates as First Coast News; as well as WAWS-WTEV, the Fox-CBS duo operated by Cox. First Coast News has upped its game through sharper marketing, accentuating the depth of its anchor crew and a savvier social media strategy, says Eric Land, president and general manager. “It’s an extremely competitive market,” Land notes.

Action News Jacksonville, as the Cox pair is known, is going through a major talent shakeup, with five anchors finding out in late May their contracts will not be renewed. Jim Zerwekh, VP and general manager, would not comment on the personnel moves. The two stations show an extraordinary amount of football, including SEC and NFL; some resources will be redirected toward new local sports programming.

Zerwekh credits parent Cox for a “significant investment in people and product,” including a remodeled newsroom. “It’s been a lot of capital, and we’ve seen a nice bump in ratings,” he says.

Graham Holdings owns WJXT. Nexstar has CW affiliate WCWJ. MyNetworkTV airs on WAWS’ dot-two channel. Comcast is the primary subscription TV operator in Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville economy is in remarkably strong shape. A major military presence, including a U.S. naval air station, helps. Jacksonville last year moved up two spots in the Nielsen rankings, leapfrogging Louisville and Memphis to land at No. 48. BIA/Kelsey has the market at an impressive No. 41 in revenue. WJXT grabbed an estimated $28 million last year, says BIA/Kelsey, while WTLV booked $25.5 million.

WJXT was tops in total-day household ratings in the May sweeps, had the top morning and early-evening ratings and won the 11 p.m. news race with a 4.9 rating/10 share, ahead of WTEV’s 4.1/8. WJXT—with Everybody Loves Raymond, Rules of Engagement, a double-run of The Big Bang Theory at 9 and news at 10— took second in primetme, behind WTEV. WJXT will slide Hot in Cleveland into the 8 p.m. slot this fall. It fits the formula, says Ellis: Multicamera, laugh track, “tried and true,” funny.

The competition is hustling to steal ratings points. Land, former COO of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is working on “reinventing” sports with more high school action. WTLV is replacing Katie with local show The Chat. “It’s along the lines of The View,” Land says.

WCWJ has a lively lineup of both syndicated reruns and local shows; the former includes Anger Management and Mike and Molly, coming this fall, while the latter includes the ghosthunting Local Haunts. “[Nearby] St. Augustine is apparently a hotbed of paranormal activity,” says Hefner. The CW station airs a two-minute sports wrap-up at 10 p.m. provided by a local radio station and has Bounce TV on a subchannel. Game as they are, the Jacksonville stations know that overcoming WJXT is a massive task. “It’s a lot of hard work from a lot of people,” says Ellis. “It’s gratifying that the people of Jacksonville take notice.”



WJXT offers mobile apps dedicated to news and weather, a hurricane tracker and an alarm clock that provides headlines and a wake-up announcement from an anchor. “We know the first thing people do in the morning is go to their phone,” says Bob Ellis, VP/GM. A fifth app is to come out this summer: Ellis calls “Storm Pins” a “social sharing app for weather coverage.”

The station has also produced mobile apps for major local events including the Gator Bowl and the Players Championship golf tourney.

The “core four” apps, says Ellis, have been downloaded 225,000 times. “As advertisers look for more and more digital pieces in their ad plans,” he adds, “the apps have definitely been something they’ve been interested in being a part of.”

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.