Market Eye: Pros and Conn’s

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Residents of the Nutmeg State are accustomed to great things from the University of Connecticut’s sports teams, typically taking place on the basketball court. But 2011 kicked off with the Huskies facing off against Oklahoma in football’s primetime Fiesta Bowl, out in Arizona.

Hartford-New Haven lies smack in between the sporting hotbeds of New York and Boston, but TV stations here can call UConn their own. The football team’s successful season generated lots of local interest and coverage (though it ended with the Huskies losing the bowl game 48-20).

Station general managers in DMA No. 30 have other reasons to be excited, too. Unemployment in this well-todo state is relatively low, auto and retail are spending big on television, and the arrival of electronics chain P.C. Richard & Son and drive-in burger joint Sonic means more cash for local TV.

“It may not be up 10%, but it should be up in the upper single-digits,” says Klarn DePalma, VP/general manager of Meredith Broadcasting’s WFSB.

It was another monster sweeps in November for CBS affiliate WFSB; De- Palma, one of B&C’s 2010 GMs of the Year (Dec. 20, 2010), calls it one of the best fall books during his decade at the station. WFSB won total-day household ratings, primetime, and morning, evening and late news; its 6.7 household rating/ 13 share at 11 p.m. was ahead of WTNH’s 5.7/11.

WTNH is half of LIN’s ABC-MyNetworkTV duopoly with WCTX. Tribune also has a pair of stations in the market with Fox-CW duo WTIC-WCCT. NBC owns WVIT, while Spanish-language outlets include Entravision’s Univision affiliate WUVN. Comcast and Cox are the major subscription-TV operators; cable’s SNY shows most UConn games.

The region is also home to ESPN’s sprawling headquarters. ESPN recently began work on a new production facility on its Bristol campus. The sports giant is Bristol’s largest taxpayer and employer.

DePalma says WFSB’s viewers skew about 60% female— typical for Meredith’s national brands. The station is thriving on the Web and mobile too. “It truly is a multiplatform sell for us,” DePalma says. “Viewers want content when they want it.”

WFSB is alone among the area’s major news stations not offering local HD, but DePalma says that will change in the first quarter. “All the equipment is ordered,” he says. “It’s a matter of doing installations—it’s right around the corner.”

WFSB will need to stay sharp to hold its advantage. The Tribune stations work out of a giant newsroom, shared with the Hartford Courant and managed by Richard Graziano. Late-news runner-up WTNH is growing. Mark Higgins, the station’s VP/GM, says he has executed a “complete face change” since he arrived from KTVK Phoenix, introducing HD, new talent and branding; Higgins describes the station’s credo as “fighting for the little guy.” Kirk Varner, WTNH news director, left in December for WKRC Cincinnati. WTNH and WCTX have Anderson Cooper’s rookie syndicated show for this fall.

One of Higgins’ top priorities since coming on board has been petitioning Nielsen to measure WTNH’s viewership in a portion of Connecticut’s Fairfield County. WTNH and WFSB have commissioned Nielsen to put together a special report on viewing in the region; the ratings giant will conduct a test in the February, May and November sweeps.

Higgins says that including a slice of Fairfield County’s viewers adds some 400,000 people (and 220 diaries) to the market—including several affluent outlying suburbs of New York City.

WVIT and WTIC did not request the report from Nielsen; the cost of participating was said to be a factor. Both stations’ parent companies, NBC and Tribune, have Fairfield County covered with their New York stations.

The Fairfield project taps a broader advertiser base for the participating stations. WFSB has reached out to the region’s viewers with a dedicated subchannel for some time. WTNH has commenced sales calls to Fairfield County businesses— offering a much more accessible price point for spots than vendors would find on a New York station.

Higgins says the push to include Fairfield County viewers is not just about finding new business—it’s also about more efficiently issuing Amber Alerts and reporting regional news that may not make the cut in DMA No. 1 newscasts. “We’re servicing the community, from a business perspective and a safety perspective,” he says. “It’s been an 18-month project— we finally have our toes in the water.”

Like WTNH, WVIT is sporting a new look. The NBC O&O opened a fully digital facility in 2009 that President/GM David Doebler says has been energizing for his crew. WVIT offers the “Locals Only” site, had 30,000 visitors to its health fair in October, and is testing a daytime concept that Doebler describes as “really relevant local content.”

Thanks to the Olympics and political ads, Doebler says 2010 represented a real rebound. “It’s been a great year after a pretty dark time,” he says.

Between a fairly stable economic picture and UConn’s high-fl ying teams—the women’s hoopsters broke the record for consecutive Division 1 basketball wins in December— Connecticut residents hit 2011 with momentum. “We have our challenges like everyone else,” says DePalma. “But it’s getting better.”

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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.