MIAMI: Thrive at Five

Like a plastic-surgery patient on Nip/Tuck, the 5 p.m. slot has undergone a major transformation in Miami. Eighteen months ago, there were four English-language newscasts at 5, and three more in Spanish. Spotting a golden counterprogramming opportunity, ABC outlet WPLG acquired Dr. Phil from CBS O&O WFOR and slotted the talker in at 5 in September 2006, then watched Phil win the time period that November.

Jump ahead to September 2007, when NBC O&O WTVJ scrapped its 5 p.m. news for a half-hour program at 7 p.m., claiming that not enough viewers were home from work at 5 (the station is seeing growth at 7). Local stations are clamoring to reach viewers in what's nothing short of a boom town—while Miami is the No. 16 Nielsen DMA, it's ranked seventh in terms of revenue. But after real estate rode a big wave for years, the mortgage crisis has tempered consumers' optimism a bit. “We're feeling the housing crunch just like everyone else,” says WFOR/WBFS President/General Manager Shawn McDonald. “If it's not affecting day-to-day business, it's at least affecting the psyche in the market.”

Shipping and tourism, both centered around Miami's waterfront, are the major industries in the DMA. The setting for FX's Nip/Tuck before McNamara/Troy relocated to Beverly Hills this season, Miami is flooded with snowbirds come winter, and of course has a giant Hispanic community, third only to New York and Los Angeles. According to Nielsen, 41.4% of the DMA is Hispanic. The Spanish-language stations do big business: NBC owns Telemundo outlet WSCV while Univision owns WLTV; both grab a double-digit percentage of market revenue. WPLG added the Hispanic entertainment network LATV on a digital channel last spring.

Miami television took in $549.3 million in 2007. Sunbeam's Fox outlet WSVN led the 2006 revenue race with $100.2 million, according to BIA Financial, while CBS-owned WFOR, Post-Newsweek's WPLG and NBC's WTVJ were bunched up for the runner-up spot. WSVN scores with distinctive news product: One rival calls the fast-paced content “a big, brassy tabloid approach,” and it seems to work with viewers. WSVN won the morning race in November with a 4.7 rating/14.4 share, and it tied Dr. Phil at 5 p.m. (WSVN General Manager Robert Leider did not return calls for comment.)

WPLG is indeed gaining momentum, with the top 6 and 11 p.m. news in November. VP/General Manager Dave Boylan says the station offers a more refined newscast than some of the others. “We're owned by the Washington Post,” he says, “and it shows.”

New faces are changing the game in Miami. WFOR has seen several new anchors move in, including Havana-born Good Morning America vet Antonio Mora. Manuel Martinez-Llorian was named VP and general manager of WSCV in December, shifting from New Jersey Telemundo station WNJU.

CW outlet WSFL, which draws a strong daytime audience from the talk trinity that VP/General Manager Rich Engberg refers to as “Maury-Jerry-Steve [Wilkos],” is partnering with Tribune sibling Sun Sentinel on various promotions. Sentinel fashion columnist Rod Hagwood promotes this week's season premiere of America's Next Top Model and hosts The Fabulous Report online and on air. Engberg says new Tribune management has challenged WSFL to up its game and keep apace with its Miami audience: “They're pushing us to improve our relevance to our viewers.”

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.