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Hartford-New Haven might be shadowed by metropolises to the north (Boston) and south (New York), but it has been a giant news market in its own right the last six months. Hurricane Sandy was a massive story in late October, and of course the Sandy Hook massacre in southwestern Connecticut occurred in mid-December. That was followed by a blizzard in February, while the bombings in Boston, around 100 miles northeast of Hartford, saw the stations send live trucks to cover the scene.
“As a market, we’ve had an enormous amount of big breaking news stories,” says Mike St. Peter, WVIT VP of news.
The stations themselves are making a bit of news as well. NBC Owned Television Stations leadership is searching for a general manager at WVIT, after David Doebler moved to Chicago to run WMAQ following Larry Wert’s departure. Wert went to Tribune earlier this year, where he is president of local broadcasting, and has a say in the unclear future of Tribune— including its Hartford-New Haven TV stations (WTIC, WCCT) and newspaper (Hartford Courant). Motorists on I-84 can almost touch Tribune’s joint operation in Hartford’s city center; if Tribune sells its newspapers, it would change the media landscape in DMA No. 30.
“How this leaves Hartford is to be determined,” says Rich Graziano, general manager at WTIC-WCCT. “There are a lot of options and possibilities, but we probably won’t know for close to a year.”
Even longtime market leader WFSB has not gone without change. Last summer, Meredith’s CBS affiliate added “On Your Side” to its branding; newscasts bear the heading Channel 3 Eyewitness News—On Your Side. “People want someone to stick up for them and ask the tough questions and hold people accountable in the decisions they make that affect people’s lives,” says Klarn DePalma, VP and general manager. “It’s a brand that resonates.”
It’s hard to argue with WFSB’s success. The station cruised to wins in all the major races—total day, prime, morning, early evening, late news—in February. It posted a 6.5 household rating/12.8 share at 11 p.m., ahead of WVIT’s 5.2/10.4.
WVIT is perhaps a more compelling story. Since Comcast took over, NBC has invested in the station, including a nine-person investigative team (see sidebar). After moving into a slick new West Hartford facility in 2009, WVIT has beefed up its New Haven studio as well. For the first time in station history, WVIT was awarded a Peabody, for its coverage of the Newtown murders. St. Peter reiterates something his anchor said on-air—that the station would gladly give back the award to rewrite history and undo the horrors at Sandy Hook. It’s nonetheless a “significant honor,” he says, for the WVIT troops.
WVIT’s ratings have grown for three straight books, adds St. Peter. “We’re a solid No. 2 in adults 25-54,” he says. “That wasn’t the case a year ago.”
Other players in the market include LIN Media’s WTNH-WCTX pair, an ABC-MyNetworkTV duopoly. Entravision has Univision-aligned WUVN. Comcast is the primary subscription-TV operator.
WTNH has a dedicated weather site, WXEdge.com, which says it is “For Weather Diehards Only.” It features radar and meteorologists’ commentary.
Graziano suspects Tribune’s new leadership will continue to invest in local TV news. That’s the trajectory WTIC-WCCT is on; he says the Fox-CW duo offers around eight hours a day of local news, up from a lone hour as recently as 2006. “We have a lot of resources committed to local news,” he says. “It’s our business.”
The Newtown tragedy—the town is in the New York DMA but, as part of Connecticut, is very much a story in Hartford-New Haven—has been in the newscasts almost daily since the fateful day. The victims’ families appearing in Washington during the Capitol Hill vote on gun control measures, along with their visit to the Boston Marathon, had the story front and center in the market again. “It’s a true local event,” DePalma says.
The local economy is progressing. Unemployment remains high, though BIA/Kelsey reports that Hartford-New Haven outperforms its market size in terms of revenue—it is No. 28 in the money category. “It’s always a challenge, but overall, I feel like we’ve recovered,” DePalma says.
The station executives agree that competition has picked up in Hartford-New Haven. “NBC has stepped up their game, WFSB are tough, tough players, and (WTNH parent) LIN is a big company,” Graziano says. “There are a lot of good competitors.”
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