New Day for New South

Although word of the new CW network just broke a few weeks ago, broadcasters in Atlanta are already prepared for its arrival. In September, the merged UPN/WB network will launch on CBS-owned UPN station WUPA, leaving Tribune’s WB affiliate WATL as an independent. WUPA is stocking up on new syndicated shows, including Dr. Keith Ablow, The Megan Mullally Show and Judge Maria Lopez.

The CW will thrive locally, WUPA General Manager Meg LaVigne believes: “This is a young market, and both [The WB and UPN] networks have been successful here.”

WATL, meanwhile, is researching its independent model. “You start out by looking at everything,” says General Manager Steve Carver. That may include sports and community events, news and syndicated product. WATL already owns a host of off-net sitcoms—including Scrubs, Sex and the City and The Simpsons—that could run in prime.

Managers are awaiting the new lineups. “There may be opportunities in prime time with less prime programming in the market,” says Andy Alford, general manager of Meredith’s CBS affiliate WGCL. “But there may be a glut of fringe ratings points.”

Nielsen’s No. 9 market is dominated by Cox Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate WSB. The station wins all key newscasts and prime time and has the top-rated syndicated program, The Oprah Winfrey Show. In November, WSB attracted 55% of all local-news ratings points, more than WAGA and WXIA combined.

But its rivals are gaining steam. In recent ratings books, Fox Television-owned WAGA, Gannett’s NBC affiliate WXIA and WGCL have all made gains. “We’re chipping away at them,” says WAGA General Manager Gene McHugh.

To cater to those with long commutes, WXIA airs the area’s only 7 p.m. local newscast. “Atlanta has tremendous traffic challenges,” notes General Manager Bob Walker, “and there was no local choice after 7 p.m.”

In July, broadcasters will adjust to another change when Nielsen introduces its new electronic ratings system, the local people meter (LPM). With LPMs, Atlanta stations will receive daily demographic ratings. Stations took in $553.2 million in 2004, up from $518.7 million in 2003, according to BIA Financial. WSB led with $150.3 million.

Despite downsizing at Delta Airlines and pending closures of local GM and Ford plants, station managers say the economy remains strong, thanks to an influx of new residents, businesses and tourists. Says McHugh, “This region is usually able to hold our own or grow.”

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