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The News Triangle

With its top-tier universities and tech companies, North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville market has an exceptionally well-educated and tech-savvy population. And stations are competing to attract them with expanded news products and advanced digital offerings.

Nielsen’s No. 29 market comprises the so-called Triangle of elite research universities: Duke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. Half the residents in Raleigh’s Wake County hold college degrees. The region is also home to communications lab Lucent Technologies.

To appeal to the market’s viewers, CBS affiliate WRAL, the news leader, and Fox affiliate WRAZ, both owned by Capitol Broadcasting, show news in high-definition. (Only a dozen or so stations nationwide have converted to HD.) The stations also offer programming on digital channels (see box, below).

WRAL also has assembled a documentary unit and is airing a primetime series in HD, Focal Point, every six weeks. Starting Aug. 28, the station will produce a second hour of morning news for WRAZ.

“We will be a local option for viewers from 7 to 9 a.m. against the network shows,” says WRAZ General Manager Tommy Schenck.

Other stations are tweaking their newscasts, including NBC affiliate WNCN, recently acquired by Media General from NBC Universal. The station opened a new daypart for local news with the market’s only 7 p.m. newscast, moving syndicated Inside Edition and Extra into the 5-6 p.m. slot to make room.

General Manager Barry Leffler says the news is up 35% in its time slot and is one way the 10-year-old station is challenging mainstays like WRAL and ABC-owned WTVD, the No. 2 news station. “We need to do things a little bit differently and be smarter and strategic,” Leffler says.

In late June, WTVD debuted a 10 p.m. news for Sinclair Broadcasting’s future CW affiliate, WLFL. (Sinclair also owns future MyNetworkTV affiliate WRDC.) The station used to produce its own 10 p.m. show but cancelled it because of low ratings. With an established station like WTVD producing, both sides predict the new show will fare better.

“The time period has potential to hold two newscasts that can thrive,” says WTVD General Manager Bernie Prazenica. Averaging about a 2 rating, the newscast is off to a solid start, but WRAZ is still well in front. In the May book, the Fox station’s 10 p.m. news posted a strong 7.1 rating/11 share.

Local broadcasters took in $168.2 million in 2005, up from $156 million in 2003, the last non-political year. With no major political races in the market this year, stations do not expect an influx of political monies.

However, station managers say that strong market growth keeps business steady. The population has grown 2.6% since 2000, about double the national average. In addition to jobs at universities, tech companies and state government, residents are attracted to the area’s reasonable cost of living. That’s a boon for broadcasters.

Says WRAL General Manager Jim Hefner, “Our economy is excellent and keeps growing.”

Next: Fresno, Calif.