Market Eye: Teamwork Elevates Syracuse

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Local media outlets in Syracuse go at each other hard, but they came together in late April to shine a spotlight on a signifi cant social issue. TV stations, including PBS outlet WCNY, and radio outlets all had a hand in producing Protecting Our Children, which ran on their air, typically from 7-8 p.m., on April 25.

The special focused on child abuse in Syracuse— an issue that came to the fore following last winter’s allegations of molestation against Bernie Fine, former assistant coach for the Syracuse U. basketball team. Local TV veterans say it was the first time in almost two decades that the stations worked together like this. “It’s something that doesn’t happen very often,” says Ron Lombard, news director of YNN’s Central New York operation. “We’re all very proud of what we could do to raise awareness of this issue.”

The media outlets say Protecting Our Children exemplifies the good they can do with their collective resources. “It was a really powerful collaborative effort that was in the best interests of the community,” says Theresa Underwood, vice president and general manager of WSYR.

WSYR is the leader in DMA No. 84. The ABC affiliate won all major ratings races in the February sweeps, posting a 5.9 household rating/ 24.7 share at 11 p.m. that bested WSTM’s 3.2/13.4. Underwood notes that WSYR’s late news share matches WSTM and WTVH combined.

Earlier this year, WSYR parent Newport Television was put up for sale. Consistency is key at the station, says Underwood; the main anchor team of Rod Wood and Carrie Lazarus has been together 25 years, and Underwood is a 19- year WSYR veteran. In January, the station turned on local HD and unveiled a new set—another advantage over its news competitors.

“We have very committed professionals who love what they do,” Underwood says. “The people that work here live here and are committed to bringing news to people in the community.”

Competition includes the “CNY Central” conglomerate: Barrington’s NBC affiliate WSTM and CW outlet WSTQ and Granite’s CBS affiliate WTVH are all under one roof. Sinclair owns Fox station WSYT and manages RKM’s MyNetworkTV affiliate WNYS. Time Warner Cable owns YNN, a news network with a regional focus. YNN has 55 staffers in Syracuse, including a weather hub, and 15 more out of regional bureaus. The service’s anchors are in Albany.

“We’ve carved out a good niche in Syracuse and the whole region,” says Lombard. While Syracuse dropped two places in the most recent Nielsen market rankings, station GMs say the region has largely avoided the economic ills that plague central New York, thanks in part to a broad portfolio of small businesses and the giant university that shares its name.

Syracuse basketball is a local passion that can’t be underestimated. The school’s sports teams are shifting from the Big East Conference to the ACC. “The team defines the community so much,” says Don O’Connor, general manager at WSYT. “I can’t tell you enough the power basketball and football have here—it’s huge.”

The stations are trying to chip away at WSYR. Barrington and Granite moved in together, in both Syracuse and Peoria, Ill., in 2009. (Management at the CNY Central stations did not return calls for comment.) Sinclair grabbed Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! from Granite for this fall. WSYT and WNYS are an entertainment duo catering to different demographics. WSYT does not air news, but O’Connor is keen on finding a partner to produce a program to go against news on WSTQ and WSYR’s .2 channel at 10 p.m.

The station execs say there is major momentum in Syracuse. “It’s a manageable city,” says O’Connor. “It’s big enough to be vibrant, but not so big that it has major ups and downs.”

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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.