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Market Eye: ‘Universal’ Appeal

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As winter’s busy season winds down and spring break beckons, Orlando business leaders are counting the receipts in the midst of a tourism boom. Around a third of the population in OrlandoDaytona Beach–Melbourne works in tourism, by some estimates, and attractions ranging from the new (Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter) to the timeless (Disney World, SeaWorld) brought oodles of visitors from the snowy northlands.

“There was a big rebound in tourism,” says Shawn Bartelt, VP/ general manager at WFTV-WRDQ. “That’s really good for the Orlando economy.”

General managers in DMA No. 19 say the ratings race has tightened up, but longtime leader WFTV had a big February sweeps. The ABC affiliate won total day household ratings, along with morning, early evening and late news; its 5.1 rating/10 share at 11 p.m. nipped WKMG’s 4.9/10, and WESH wasn’t far off the pace either. Fox O&O WOFL won primetime and 10 p.m. news.

Bartelt says WFTV thrives on enterprise reporting. “We do a lot of investigative work,” she says, noting a recent report on a prominent mayor’s questionable fund-raising. “We dig up stories and ask the tough questions viewers want to hear asked.”

Duopolies abound in Orlando. Cox owns ABC-independent combo WFTV-WRDQ. Hearst TV has the NBC-CW duo WESH and WKCF. Fox has Fox-MyNetworkTV pair WOFL and WRBW. Rounding out the market are Post-Newsweek CBS affiliate WKMG and Spanish-language options including Univision affiliate WVEN and TeleFutura outlet WOTF.

Bright House is the dominant cable player, and its News 13 is a lively local presence. The channel shares resources with Tampa sister Bay News 9; this summer, Bright House will combine the channels’ Spanish-language offerings into a new channel called InfoMás. With a full-court press on weather and local politics, News 13 goes wall to wall on breaking news when its broadcast competition shows network fare. “They continue to react to what we do,” says Elliott Wiser, corporate VP of news and local programming at Bright House. “We know who they’re watching in their newsrooms.”

Stations are expanding their offerings. WRDQ launched a 6:30 p.m. news last September. WESH and WOFL added 4:30 a.m. shows last spring. WKMG has a new 6 and 11 p.m. anchor in Gaard Swanson, formerly of KIRO Seattle; the station is contemplating what to air this fall in the 5 p.m. hour currently occupied by Dr. Phil.

WKCF took The CW’s 2010 “Model Affiliate” honor. The station’s 10 p.m. news, launched in September 2009, is showing some momentum. WESH’s 4 p.m. news may see a boost this fall, when Oprah Winfrey departs WFTV. “We’ve been able to win some months head-to-head,” says Jim Carter, president and general manager of WESH-WKCF. “That tells us we have a real opportunity [at 4 p.m.].”

WOFL General Manager Dennis Welsh, who moved from sales director at KDFW Dallas in September, has vowed to make his mark in the Orlando news game. “The main order of business is shaking things up, and creating a more compelling and relevant newscast,” Welsh says. “We’re not simply reporting the news—we’re trying to create a unique voice.”

That includes more detail in the reports, Welsh says, and more perspective on the issues from a wider array of sources.

Orlando’s TV business is picking up, thanks to automotive’s rebound and the strength of categories such as medical, restaurants and telcos. “The first quarter has been a little slow, but I think it will be a healthy year,” says Skip Valet, VP and general manager at WKMG. “And the presidential race should be huge in Florida.”

The stations race is hot, too. “It’s a very competitive market right now,” says Bartelt. “It probably makes everybody better.”

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