Pittsburgh: Immaculate Reception

Pittsburgh has a grave perception problem, say station executives. Even though its trademark steel industry has long since packed up, and high-skill sectors like medical research and computer science have taken its place, Pittsburgh is still thought of by most as a steel town—an image surely reinforced Sundays in the fall and winter when the beloved Pittsburgh Steelers take the field. In many cases, research facilities have sprung up on the so-called “brownfields” where heavy manufacturing once took place, a development that many see as symbolic.

“There's a proud tradition here in the mills,” says KDKA/WPCW VP/General Manager Chris Pike. “But the region is very different—it's much more of a knowledge-based economy now.”

There's a proud tradition in broadcasting as well, with exceptionally strong news outfits backed by well-established parents; WPXI VP/General Manager Ray Carter calls Pittsburgh “a news consumer's paradise.” Fox comedy Back to You is set at a Pittsburgh station, and Kelsey Grammer's anchor character is a nod to KDKA anchor Ken Rice, who worked with creator Steve Levitan at a Wisconsin station decades ago. It's one of the country's most competitive markets: CBS-owned KDKA, Cox's WPXI and Hearst-Argyle's WTAE are separated by less than two percentage points in revenue.

Perhaps owing to that perception problem, Pittsburgh ranked No. 30 in terms of revenue despite being the No. 22 Nielsen DMA. The market took in $194.2 million last year, according to BIA Financial, and is expected to gross $219.5 million in 2008. All eyes are on the primary April 22, after which the Democratic nominee may emerge. Barack Obama was the first to buy local TV spots.

KDKA led the revenue pack in 2006, per BIA, grabbing $53.5 million, just ahead of NBC affiliate WPXI ($52 million) and ABC outlet WTAE ($50.1 million). Sinclair owns Fox affiliate WPGH and MyNetworkTV outlet WPMY; CBS owns CW station WPCW.

KDKA—which won late news with a 10.9 household rating/19 share, ahead of WPXI—laid off staffers last week. But Pike says it remains well suited to crank out more breaking news, along with investigative, political and business reports. “We have experienced reporters in all those areas,” he says. “Our content is stronger day in and day out.”

WTAE, a close third in late news, rules the morning, pulling a 7.7/24 in February. “There's a gigantic viewership in the morning,” says President/General Manager Rick Henry. “It's like a mini-primetime for us.”

WPXI, meanwhile, is hardly content to stay runner-up. Coming in second not only in late news but total day ratings and primetime, too, the station moved into a new $30 million facility in October and was first out with HD local programming. WPXI also offers a pair of digital channels in Weather Plus and Retro TV Network, and Carter views the digital world as television's new frontier. “We're inventing it right now,” he says. “We have the opportunity to be pioneers, just like the TV pioneers from the '50s and '60s.”

Managers say Pittsburgh is a fine place to live, thanks to a large number of native Pittsburghers who make for a strong sense of community. They're not the only ones championing the city—Rand McNally's Places Rated Almanac named Pittsburgh “America's Most Livable City” last spring.

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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.