Market Eye: Reading the ‘Tea’ Leaves in Boston

Bostonians have long held their independence dear, from the anticolonist Boston Tea Party 200-plus years ago to Senator Scott Brown’s emergence on the backs of the movement taking its name from that historical act of local defiance.

Market leader WCVB thrives on that same spirit of independence. The high cost of doing business in DMA No. 7 was one of the reasons why stations here sought out partnerships with other local outlets. CBS O&O WBZ and Foxowned WFXT share a helicopter and video. Sunbeam Television’s WHDH and Comcast’s 24/7 cable channel NECN also share a chopper.

Hearst stations have thus far stayed out of the resource-sharing trend, and WCVB is no exception. “We stay market leader by being independent,” says President/General Manager Bill Fine, “while the other guys share resources.”

An ABC affiliate, WCVB easily won total-day household ratings in last May’s sweeps, along with morning and early evening news, while its 5.2 household rating/11 share at 11 p.m. beat WBZ’s 4/9. WFXT won the primetime news race with a 5.1/9. WBZ won overall prime.

As befits a Top Ten market, duopolies abound. Hearst has WCVB and Manchester, N.H.-based ABC outlet WMUR. CBS owns WBZ and independent WSBK, which President/GM Ed Piette calls “the sitcom station.” Sunbeam has NBC affiliate WHDH and CW outlet WLVI. Hearst sold its stake in NECN to Comcast last year; Stacey Marks Bronner runs NECN, which now calls itself the New England News Station.

Spanish-language options include Univision affiliate WUNI, Telemundo affiliate WNEU and a Univision-owned TeleFutura affiliate. Entravision-owned WUNI produces a 6 p.m. regional news and is redesigning WUNITV. com. “We’re localizing it more and doing more with the news team,” says General Manager Alex von Lichtenberg.

Comcast is the dominant pay-television operator, while Charter, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS have a presence in Boston. The market took in $326 million last year, according to BIA/Kelsey. WCVB led the way with $75 million and change.

As with many markets recently, a 4:30 a.m. news war is brewing in Boston. NECN planted the flag first. WBZ launched first among broadcasters in May, while WFXT and WCVB jumped in this fall. An estimated 375,000 viewers are tuned in at 4:30.

On Sept. 20, WFXT also added news to the 9-10 a.m. hour, giving it a whopping 5½ hours of local morning news each weekday. “Our 40 hours of local news a week is more than any other station in the market,” says VP/General Manager Gregg Kelley.

WCVB added a 5 a.m. weekend news Sept. 11-12, currently the only one in the market.

As part of a major CBS initiative, WBZ is working closely with the five Boston-based CBS radio properties on breaking news and sports. Piette says it’s become the largest news-gathering organization in southern New England. “We’re able to deploy resources far more completely than anyone in the marketplace,” he says.

Boston’s local TV business is healthy. Automotive and financial services advertising are way up, and the political season is ablaze. Once reliably Democratic, Massachusetts’ races are increasingly toss-ups, and candidates are spending accordingly. “We’re cautiously optimistic,” says Piette. “The market continues to recover, just not in a meteoric sort of way.”

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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.