Like runners competing in this week’s 111th Boston Marathon, broadcasters in the market are jockeying for position in a tight local-news race. And with the area’s Web-savvy populace, many stations are looking for an edge online.
For CBS-owned WBZ, that means adding Web elements to its coverage of the April 16 marathon itself, including online clips from marathons past, a “Why I Run” community blog, and a Web tool that helps viewers locate friends as they run.
“It’s a full-court press,” WBZ President/General Manager Ed Piette said as his station prepared to cover the race for the 27th year. “Covering it is quite an undertaking, but we’re very excited about the opportunity.”
In a market with top-tier colleges like Harvard and MIT and tech firms like Brightcove, station managers are constantly one-upping each other with Web offerings. For example, WCVB’s site has seven certified meteorologists who produce 24/7 weather information, while WFXT’s online Metro Guide features real estate listings and a Roommate Finder.
The economy in Nielsen’s No. 7 market, however, is underperforming, managers say. Retail consolidation has hampered advertising, and the cooling real estate market has hit categories like home furnishings. “The market’s revenues have been in decline the last few years, though there are indicators that it’s getting healthier,” says WFXT VP/General Manager Gregg Kelley, citing automotive and telecommunications as reasons for optimism.
The market took in an estimated $555.9 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, which projects a flat 2007. In 2005 (the most recent station tallies available), Sunbeam’s NBC affiliate WHDH led with $122.9 million, ahead of Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliate WCVB ($117.4 million) and CBS-owned WBZ ($108.8 million).
Also in the running are Fox-owned WFXT, which bagged $72 million in 2005, and a trio of little-sister stations: Sunbeam’s CW affiliate, CBS’ independent WSBK and a Hearst-Argyle ABC station in Manchester, N.H. Comcast is the dominant cable player, and Verizon is making inroads with its video service.
WCVB had a memorable February sweeps, winning total-day ratings, along with morning and evening news. The ABC outlet topped all 11 p.m. news entrants, but WFXT—celebrating 10 years of late news—grabbed the late crown with its 10 p.m. program. WBZ had the top-ranking seven-day prime time.
The stations are pouring resources into their signature products to stay ahead of the game. At WHDH, that includes “Closing Bell on Your Cell,” weather reports sent to mobile devices, and three-minute newscasts on whdh.com. WCVB has Chronicle, a 25-year- old program that airs at 7:30 p.m. “It’s a remarkably consistent, 100%-local show,” says President/General Manager Bill Fine.
WFXT is fine-tuning its newscasts, including Fox 25 Morning News, the 10 p.m. show, and an hour program at 5 p.m. To plug its hyper-local philosophy, the station built a street-level downtown studio near the State House. “It’s a key addition because we can feature both [high-profile] guests staying nearby and local people walking by [on the newscasts],” says Kelley.
CBS-owned WSBK has a new pro- soccer package, featuring the New England Revolution. For its part, wbztv.com, in addition to its marathon coverage, has minute-by-minute traffic reports and a running guide to gas prices around in the region. “It’s got 'stickiness,’ in Web-speak,” says Piette. “And it’s very video-intensive, because video is what we do. It’s what we’re all about.”
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