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Market Eye: Return of the Big Dig

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Blizzards are a part of life in Boston, but the storm that dropped around 2½ feet of snow on the region Feb. 8-9 was exceptional even by the flinty market’s lofty standards. TV stations offered round-the-clock coverage, putting staffers upin hotels and rolling out the food. “It’s all hands on deck,” Chris Wayland, VP and general manager at WHDH, said the morning the blizzard hit. “We’ll accommodate everybody we have to to cover this in a proper way.”

The Boston stations are wellequipped to cover major breaking news. The Big Four network outlets include two O&Os, a flagship and one backed by a fiercely competitive billionaire. But it’s WCVB, star of the Hearst Television group, that wins. The station took total-day ratings in the November sweeps, along with morning, early evening and late news, the latter with a 5.6 household rating/13 share, ahead of WHDH’s 3.9/9 (the two were even in adults 25- 54 ratings). CBS-owned WBZ won primetime.

WCVB won the national 2012 Murrow Award for overall excellence in the television— large market category. The ABC affiliate excels thanks to deep tenure among department heads; what Bill Fine, president and general manager, said is exceptional talent on both sides of the camera; and a serious competitive streak. “We take it personally if we don’t lead the market—in ratings and quality,” Fine said.

WHDH and cable channel NECN share a helicopter, while WBZ and Fox’s WFXT are partners in video. WCVB isn’t big on sharing. “We are steadfastly independent,” said Fine. “You need a point of distinction, and I never thought sharing video would help in that regard.”

Boston has an array of duopolies. WCVB works with sister ABC affiliate WMUR in New Hampshire. CBS owns WBZ and MyNetwork- TV affiliate WSBK. Sunbeam holds both NBC affiliate WHDH and CW outlet WLVI. Entravision owns Univision affiliate WUNI and has a joint sales agreement with UniMas station WUTF. WUNI airs a 6 p.m. news that’s a mix of regional and locally generated content. “We send a couple trucks out every day,” said Alex von Lichtenberg, senior VP of marketing solutions for Entravision’s Boston properties.

Carlisle One Media owns independent WBIN. Comcast is the market’s major subscription TV operator; it also owns NECN.

WBZ has a new partnership with The Boston Globe that includes lending weather expertise to the paper. The station also works with five CBSowned radio stations. “That gives us a leg up on everybody in the way we talk to the audience,” said Mark Lund, WBA president/GM.

Lund has had an eventful start at the helm. His first day as GM coincided with Hurricane Sandy. That was followed by Election Day and the Newtown massacre, and now the blizzard. “I’ve been thrust right into it,” said Lund, son of former CBS president Peter Lund.

WFXT is strong in the younger demos. VP/ GM Gregg Kelley said connecting with younger viewers is essential to keeping stations relevant. Last year, WFXT introduced 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. newscasts to create a massive six-hour morning block. The 9 a.m. news boosted ratings 60% January-to-January, Kelley said. “It seems to be a real growth area for us,” he added. “We continue to see a growing appetite for morning news.”

Boston stations will benefit this year from a special election for John Kerry’s Senate seat. The DMA also got a bump in advertising, from the likes of AAA and insurance companies, from the Blizzard of ’13.

All roads were closed to the public on the eve of the storm, but station vehicles hit the hot spots. “All in all, another in a long line of major events,” said Fine, “where broadcasters served as the ultimate and most reliable first responders for information.”

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