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Market Eye: Photographic Memories

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It was at one point unthinkable, but had grown increasingly inevitable. Kodak—the foundation of the Rochester, N.Y., community for close to 125 years—filed for bankruptcy in mid-January. The story was covered with great interest by the local Rochester news outlets.

The photography monolith hitting rock bottom is a blow to the northwestern New York market’s civic pride, but it’s not quite the shot to its economic wellbeing that outsiders might assume.

“Rochester is less about Kodak and more about hospitals and universities,” says Chuck Samuels, vice president and general manager at WHAM. “The market has shifted to a different culture.”

Indeed, Rochester—bookended by Buffalo and Syracuse—is in fine fettle, especially considering the sagging state of its two neighboring cities. The Rochester DMA gained two spots in Nielsen’s most recent market ranking, including almost 7,000 TV households, to come in at No. 79. BIA/Kelsey ranks so-called “Roc City” No. 70 in terms of revenue—a significant outperforming of its market rank.

“Rochester is never boom-and-bust,” says Louis Gattozzi, vice president and general manager at WROC. “It’s always been pretty steady.”

Newport Television’s WHAM has been steady as well. The ABC affiliate won morning news in the November sweeps, virtually tied Hubbard’s WHEC in early evening news and won the late news race more handily; WHAM’s 6 household rating/21 share at 11 p.m. topped WROC’s 4/15, which is Monday-Friday only, and WHEC’s 4/13. (WHAM won the adults 25-54 ratings race with a 3/17.)

Nexstar’s WROC won primetime easily and took a tight total-day household ratings too. The CBS affiliate has a shared services agreement with Fox affiliate WUHF, which is owned by Sinclair. WROC produces the Fox First at 10 news for WUHF. WHAM is also in the 10 p.m. news game, airing a year-old primetime newscast on its CW sister, which runs on the multicast tier.

Multicast offerings in Rochester are rich, and include Me-TV on WHEC, TheCoolTV on WUHF and Bounce TV on WROC. Bounce programs to an African- American audience, which represents a little more than 11% in Rochester, according to BIA/Kelsey. Bounce is over-the-air only. “We haven’t had a huge amount of feedback,” says Gattozzi, “but the African-American community has responded favorably.”

Vision Communications’ MyNetworkTV outlet WBGT features high school sports and an “urban block” of Wendy Williams, House of Payne and Meet the Browns from 5-7 p.m.

Time Warner Cable, the primary cable operator, offers its YNN (Your News Now) cable channel. YNN Rochester debuted a nightly 15-minute hockey show earlier this month, and has undergone a complete upgrade of its production gear. “It was long overdue,” says Steve Paulus, who oversees the channel from New York 1 News digs in Manhattan. “It was pretty welcome on their end.”

WHAM excels on the backs of a well-entrenched anchor team (Samuels notes all front-line talent has at least 20 years in at the station) that has earned its welcome in viewers’ family rooms. “Our talent really connects with the community; they’re a little more likeable, I guess,” Samuels says. “When you absolutely need to know, people know who to turn to.”

WHAM has Dr. Oz on in place of Oprah Winfrey. The station seeks to further its local advantage with a robust social media strategy; @13WHAM has issued more than 16,000 tweets to about 5,500 Twitter followers. “We are trying to expand our brand on social media and other outlets,” says Samuels. “It’s a way to keep the brand fresh and current.”

Gattozzi is bullish about WROC’s 4 p.m. news, which features an anchor in business-casual attire and lots of digital interactivity. “It’s performed rather well in the time period,” he says. (WROC, like other Nexstar stations, does not subscribe to Nielsen.)

WHEC has a fairly new general manager in Derek Dalton, who succeeded the retiring Arnold Klinsky. Dalton is bullish on WHEC’s 7 p.m. newscast and early returns from Me-TV. “It’s taken off like a rocket,” he says.

New York does not see much in terms of presidential election money, but some Congressional races will keep things lively. That may include Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s seat, if GOP rivals deem that to be worth fighting for. “Political years tend to cure many ills,” quips Samuels.

Some Rochester residents described Kodak’s Jan. 19 bankruptcy filing announcement the way you’d describe the death of an elderly loved one: a sense of relief that the inevitable had finally arrived. In the days after Kodak’s announcement, Rochester stations stuck with follow-up stories, including the mood of employees, how Kodak’s vendors are affected and which sectors will fill the economic breach.

A recent New York Times front-page story detailed the long relationship between Kodak and Rochester and noted that Kodak, Xerox and Bausch & Lomb once represented 60% of the market’s employment. Just before Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection, it stood at 6%. The University of Rochester, with a pair of hospitals, is currently the city’s largest employer; grocery chain Wegmans is based in the city.

And so Rochester will soldier on. “We’re not prone to wild fluctuations,” says Samuels. “We know what to expect year-to-year.”

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