Mostly Sunny in Philadelphia

ABC O&O WPVI has long ruled Philadelphia television, and the station once again asserted itself in February. It took total day ratings along with morning, evening and late news, all by comfortable margins.

Perhaps the more intriguing story is who clocked in at No. 2 in late news. With new station leadership and talent, not to mention a boost from that little performance show called American Idol, WTXF's 10 p.m. newscast was second—its 6.2 household rating/10 share inching out KYW's 6.1/12 at 11 p.m.

VP/General Manager Mike Renda, who came from another Fox O&O, WJW Cleveland, last spring, has set his sights on the next rung on the ladder. “We're pretty close to the market leader,” he says (WPVI did an 8.8/17 in late news). “We feel we have the horses to go after them.”

As befits the fourth largest Nielsen DMA, the networks own the big station players. Managers say revenue is somewhere between flat and down a tick; auto continues to hold back, and the stations are still waiting for retail outlets to fill the advertising breach left in 2005, when May Department Stores, which ran the Strawbridge store in Philly, was acquired by Macy's. The new owners closed or absorbed the Strawbridge stores in 2006.

Comcast is based in Philadelphia, and station executives are encouraged to see a marketing battle escalate between the cable giant and upstart video service Verizon FiOS for subscribers. They're also pleased to see Pennsylvania's April 22 primary emerge as vital for the Democratic hopefuls.

Local TV pulled in $698.8 million last year, according to BIA Financial, with a forecast of $789.7 for 2008. WPVI, of course, led the revenue pack in 2006 with $196.2 million, ahead of NBC-owned WCAU with $130.6 million, CBS-owned KYW with $130 million, and WTXF's $107.9 million. CBS owns the CW outlet, and Tribune owns the MyNetworkTV (MNT) station. Univision-owned WUVP rolls out 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts this week.

WPVI is headed up by Bernie Prazenica, who spent two decades in Philly before coming back in November. The president/general manager says WPVI's success stems from strong syndicated product such as Wheel of Fortune, as well as consistency in its newscasts. “There's stability of format and stability of people there,” he says. “We've got a legacy of trust with viewers—they believe in what we do.”

Stations have ample resources to enhance their programming; WTXF and KYW are in new facilities, and WPVI moves into one next year. KYW, which claimed a Murrow Award last summer, will launch locally focused microsites dedicated to topics like nightlife and sports. Ratings are rising at MNT outlet WPHL, says VP/General Manager Vince Giannini, on the strength of double-runs of Two and a Half Men and the network's Street Patrol show. Sam Zell's takeover of Tribune has spelled stability for the station, he adds: “Sam picked the house up off its foundation, shook it, and put it back down. If you can still get up and walk around, you're OK.”

Despite a stagnant economy, managers are encouraged by the expansion of the city's convention center, substantial population growth, and a new mayor in Michael Nutter. Says KYW President/General Manager Michael Colleran, who started his career in Philadelphia, “Once the economy straightens out, I believe we'll see Philadelphia in a way it's never been seen before.”

Next: Indianapolis, IN

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.