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Market Eye: Tales From the Frozen Tundra

While much of the country has been gripped by excruciating cold these past few weeks, Green Bay, Wis., takes the temps to new lows. The mercury inching above zero has been reason to celebrate. “Brutally cold,” says Don Carmichael, WBAY VP and general manager. Joseph Denk, his counterpart at WFTV, also used the word “brutal” to describe the climate these days. “The wind chill is -33 today,” Denk says. “Other than that, it’s gorgeous.”

The weather was cited as a factor in the beloved Packers’ difficulty in selling out Lambeau Field for a playoff game Jan. 5. But they’re used to the cold in Green Bay. More likely the culprits were a new team policy that ticket payments wouldn’t be refunded if the team did not make the playoffs (the money would be used as credit toward 2014 tickets instead), and the Pack’s dim postseason prospects before the return of star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

No sellout would have meant a TV blackout, so the region’s Fox affiliates stepped up. WLUK teamed with its counterparts in Milwaukee and Wausau to buy a block of tickets, and instructed the Packers to donate them to worthy fans.

WLUK is not quite as charitable in DMA No. 70’s ratings race, however. It’s one heckuva battle with WBAY, the ABC affiliate that became part of Media General following its merger with Young Broadcasting. WBAY rules the household ratings, while Fox-aligned WLUK is strong in adults 25-54. Both won their respective total-day household races in the November sweeps. WBAY is particularly strong in early evening news, and also took late news handily, its 8.8 household rating/ 23.8 share at 10 p.m. topping WLUK’s 6.3/12.1 at 9. (WBAY won a close 25-54 contest.) WBAY claimed the household morning race, while WLUK scored a big a.m. win in adults 25-54. WBAY took primetime.

Time Warner Cable is Green Bay-Appleton’s dominant subscription TV operator. Nexstar owns CBS affiliate WFRV and Journal Broadcast Group owns the NBC-MyNetworkTV duo WGBA-WACY. The market’s other duopoly is owned by LIN: WLUK and CW affiliate WCWF.

A Difference of Opinion

It’s a two-horse race, says Jay Zollar, VP and general manager at WLUK. He suggests WFRV has fallen off the pace by inserting local programs in place of well rated syndicated shows. WLUK, which features Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune in access (“a terrific combo,” he says), grabbed Live With Kelly and Michael this season and will add Ellen when it departs WFRV next season.

Not surprisingly, WFRV’s Denk sees it differently. The station—which does not get Nielsen ratings, typical of a Nexstar property—is intent on creating more “uniquely local” programming. WFRV introduced an hour newscast at 4 p.m. and extended its 6 p.m. news to an hour in the fall of 2012, and debuted Local 5 Live at 9 a.m. this past September. The latter targets women 25-54 and features live remotes and some sponsored segments. Without ratings, the station gauges success by the calls and visits sponsors get after their segment airs. “They’re very pleased and keep coming back for more,” Denk says.

WLUK has added a third hour of morning news on the weekends with Good Day Wisconsin running 6-9 a.m. Sister WCWF has syndication success with Rules of Engagement and TheMiddle, and a local personality to represent the station around town in Katie Flottmeyer.

WLUK and WBAY were neck and neck in terms of revenue in 2012, the last year for which BIA/Kelsey currently offers figures. WLUK booked an estimated $25.7 million and WBAY an estimated $25.4 million. BIA/Kelsey ranked Green Bay-Appleton a whopping No. 54 in terms of revenue in ’12, but the general managers say that reflects an outrageous amount of political spending, much of it tied to Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election, in ’12. Its true revenue rank is much closer to its market size, which dropped one spot in the most recent Nielsen hierarchy.

The first quarter has been a bit soft, say the Green Bay TV insiders, but looks to pick up. “The market never has big highs or lows,” says Carmichael. “It just steams along in the middle.”

While the weather has indeed been frightful, there is something of a silver lining to the single-digit temps. WBAY, which also features a weather channel on its dot-two, had a half-million page views and 135,000 unique users on one day during a recent snowstorm. “Our digital products go off the map when that happens,” says Carmichael.



WLUK’s Fox 11 Living With Amy used to get stiff competition from Live With Kelly and Michael on WFRV in the 10 a.m. slot, but the Fox station removed that rival and added a strong lead-in in one shot. WLUK now has the syndicated Live With Kelly and Michael at 9, which has lifted ratings for Living With Amy. “We said, ‘Let’s pick up Live and not compete against it,’” says Jay Zollar, WLUK VP and general manager.

Living With Amy features a kitchen set and some sponsored content, and is hosted by former Good Day Wisconsin anchor Amy Hanten. Hanten actively uses social media to promote the show, including Pinterest and Twitter (@TheCookingMom). She writes on Facebook: “My mission is to help make your life easier with really good, quick and easy recipes.”

Zollar says his daytime star is “naturally gifted at cooking and crafting, and doing live television.”