Market Eye: Virginia Is for (News) Lovers

As one might expect from a market that has “News” in its name, viewers in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region are well taken care of by the TV stations. WAVY’s “very vigilant, very aggressive” On Your Side brand goes all-out on breaking news and weather, says president and general manager Doug Davis. WTKR’s vitalized Taking Action, Getting Results operation takes the concept of viewer advocacy to new heights.

Meanwhile, the other major news player in the Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News market, surging WVEC, may get stronger still in the wake of its recent acquisition. An ABC affiliate, WVEC unveiled its 13 News Now brand following exhaustive market research. “We felt there was a demand for fresher, more relevant, more timely product,” says Brad Ramsey, president and general manager.

Too Close to Call

It is one heck of a race in DMA No. 45. NBC affiliate WAVY held the local news ratings crown for years, but the network’s inconsistent primetime and the reenergized efforts of local rivals have tightened things up considerably. WAVY won the total-day household ratings title in the November sweeps and remains a force in morning news. WVEC grabbed early evening news glory, while its 6.2 household rating/11.3 share at 11 p.m. was virtually tied with CBS affiliate WTKR, both ahead of WAVY’s 5.6/10.2. WVEC won the key adults 25-54 race in late news handily, while WTKR took primetime.

Like many NBC affiliates, WAVY is focused on stoking “appointment viewing,” says Davis, to get viewers to click their remotes, if needed, at 11 p.m. Years of goodwill in the market helps. “Regardless of what people are watching in prime, WAVY remains a [news] destination,” he says.

The bosses at both WVEC and WTKR describe November as the best sweeps they’ve had in years. WVEC had an eventful 2013, introducing a new studio and crafting its new branding internally before an official unveiling in August. (The station previously featured a Your Local News Leader moniker.) “We had a sense of where we wanted to go very early in the year, and built the brand before we gave it a name,” says Ramsey.

WTKR, meanwhile, picked up five percentage points in revenue share from 2008 to 2012, according to BIA/Kelsey. Jeff Hoffman took over as general manager in ’08, cleaned out the newsroom and set out to “Take Norfolk Back!,” as his press release at the time proclaimed. Hoffman gives his news director hire, Tina Luque, big-time credit for inserting WTKR into the discussion, calling her one of the best in the country thanks to big-market experience and stellar news instincts. “She’s a wonderful story-teller and an excellent producer,” Hoffman says. “People are buying into what Tina’s doing—she implements it better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

M&A Changes at the Top

Last year’s frenetic mergers and acquisitions activity in local TV profoundly impacted Norfolk-Portsmouth- Newport News: Tribune picked up WTKR and CWaligned WGNT in its Local TV acquisition late last year, while Gannett got WVEC when it acquired Belo. LIN owns both WAVY and Fox affiliate WVBT. The market’s MyNetworkTV affiliate, WTVZ, belongs to Sinclair; Cox is the top subscription TV operator.

WTKR features segments titled “People Taking Action,” about do-gooders in the market. The station on occasion even takes the extraordinary step of giving cash directly to needy residents. (Hoffman offers as examples a person whose wheelchair was stolen, and a family displaced after a house fire). WTKR asks residents to match its grants. “When we see people who need help, we help them,” says Hoffman. “These are the things that differentiate our station.”

The stations are expanding their news offerings. WGNT introduced 10 p.m. news on weekends, to go with a 7 a.m.-9 a.m. program during the week. Hoffman says he’s looking to further expand on the CW side. WVBT is taking on WGNT in the morning—it has expanded its 7 a.m. program to a second hour. Morning news is a specialty at the LIN duopoly, and Davis says sunrise shows are a particularly good fit in greater Norfolk. “Between the military and the ports, there are lots of morning viewers,” he says.

The military has a giant presence locally, including the massive Naval Station Norfolk. Close to half the gross local product is tied to military and ancillary businesses, says Ramsey. There was major concern about the dysfunction in Congress freezing up federal spending, but that has been mollified for the time being.

Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News is an impressive No. 40 in revenue, says BIA/Kelsey. “Each quarter in 2013, the economy felt a little more positive,” says Ramsey. “We’re optimistic about 2014.”


LIN Media has been rolling out morning lifestyle shows on its stations for years, and WAVY’s Hampton Roads Show offers some good reasons why. The program is hammocked, notes Doug Davis, president and GM, between NBC’s Today and WAVY’s noon news. Focused on fitness, fashion, cooking and other female-friendly topics, the 11 a.m. show also offers sponsored segment opportunities for advertisers. “We think it’s the right show for that time period,” says Davis. “It’s the only thing like it in Hampton Roads.”

Hampton Roads Show posted a 1.4 rating among female viewers in November—ahead of The Price Is Right, says Davis, and trailing The View’s 2.5 rating. Davis says it’s a robust showing: “We’re pleased with that, especially against something that’s been on the air as long as The View has.”

Similar programs in the LIN group include WPRI Providence’s The Rhode Show. “I think it represents our future,” says Davis of WAVY’s local entry.

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.