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New York is Wired for Growth

Government jobs in Albany, N.Y., have long been the primary source of employment in the state capital. But thanks to the region's ongoing “Tech Valley” initiative, an influx of high-tech firms has given a boost to an otherwise economically modest TV market. Says Robert Furlong, VP/general manager at CBS affiliate WRGB, “The tech industry is where the growth is.”

Computer-chip manufacturer AMD recently announced that it will open a multi­billion-dollar operation in the region. Besides executives with healthy salaries, it means more manufacturing jobs and more reasons for college students to stay in Albany after they graduate.

The brain gain also means new viewers and greater competition in an already tight market. Freedom Communications' WRGB, Young Broadcasting's ABC outlet WTEN, Hubbard's NBC affiliate WNYT and Clear Channel's Fox affiliate WXXA are the principal players. “It's very competitive for a No. 56 market,” says Rene Laspina, president/general manager of WTEN. “There are five places to go for news at 5 p.m.”

Freedom's CW affiliate WCWN and Venture Technologies' MyNetworkTV affiliate WNYA round out the mix, with Time Warner Cable's Capital News 9 also in the fray.

WNYT is the undisputed news leader, winning morning, evening and late news in November sweeps and generating 30.8% of the 2005 revenue. WNYT VP/General Manager Steve Baboulis credits continuity for the robust performance. “We've got stable anchors, as well as the behind-the-scenes people,” he says. “It creates brand loyalty in the market.”

WRGB, the No. 2 revenue engine, also boasts an established news team, but others are tweaking their outfits. WTEN is searching for a new anchor team, and WXXA recently launched a three-hour morning program called Fox 23 News Daybreak as part of an ambitious three-year plan to go from fourth to first in morning news. “We want to move up one slot every year,” says VP/General Manager Jeff Whitson.

The market took in around $85.6 million in 2005, the most recent year the numbers are available, according to BIA Financial. The stations enjoyed abundant political advertising in the past few years, and managers expect telecommunications (including satellite and cable television), banking and furniture sales to pick up the slack this year. “As gas prices go down,” says WXXA's Whitson, “retail is showing a healthy rebound.”

With last month's National Association of Television Program Executives conference behind them, local broadcasters are lamenting the lack of new syndicated fare. WNYT airs Rachael Ray, whose host got her start in Albany in 1998, before appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Jeopardy! does extremely well for WTEN, easily winning the 7:30 p.m. weekday slot with a 12 rating/24 share. WCWN, meanwhile, will try Two and a Half Men come fall.

As befits a tech-savvy market, stations are pushing their multiplatform offerings. WRGB is getting a retooled Website, as Freedom overhauls its station sites to give them a uniform look and to sell ads on a national basis.

WNYT is pushing its Weather Plus digital channel, while WXXA is testing VTV, Clear Channel's lifestyle-themed digital channel, and hopes to launch in the coming weeks.

WTEN, meanwhile, is promoting its revamped Website. “It's all local news,” says Laspina. “It's a huge, huge priority for us.”