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Racing for Ratings

In the home market of next month's Daytona 500, the race to be news champ is on. CBS affiliate WKMG and ABC outlet WFTV are the top contenders; in the recent November sweeps, both claimed a piece of the checkered flag. On weekdays, WKMG nabbed a decisive win in 11 p.m. news, dominating the time slot for the fourth straight November.

CBS' prime time success gives WKMG a leg up. “CBS opens the door for us, and we hold it open,” says WKMG General Manager Henry Maldonado.

But when weekends are factored into the ratings, ABC's Sunday-night hits Desperate Housewives and Grey's Anatomy give WFTV the slightest edge. On a Monday through Sunday basis, the ABC station eked out a win in late news by three-hundredths of a ratings point: WFTV averaged an 8.39 rating/15 share to WKMG's 8.36/15.

The stations, along with NBC affiliate WESH and Fox-owned WOFL, are fighting for pole position in a thriving market. Local broadcasters grossed $313 million in 2004, up from $278.9 million in 2003, per BIA Financial. Home of Disney World, SeaWorld and the big auto race, Orlando-Daytona counts tourism as a major economic driver.

Thousands of residents are moving in every week. For broadcasters, the influx presents challenges. Local news is a business built on habit, and new residents are not familiar with brands or anchors.

“These viewers do not have loyalties, and we have to prove ourselves over and over again,” says WESH General Manager Bill Bauman. “Stations here have made a lot of changes, and they are all made with an eye to the future.”

That means overhauling talent and expanding news. Both WESH and WKMG recently debuted fresh morning-news teams. In September, WESH dropped its longtime morning team and introduced the duo of Sally Schulze and Tom Schaad. Last fall, WKMG recruited former CBS morning host Mark McEwen and paired him with Miami veteran Jackie Sosa. (The station's former morning anchor, Shawn Killinger, was a contestant in The Apprentice: Martha Stewart.) Both stations report strong growth in ratings, although WFTV is still top-rated from 5 a.m.-7 a.m. and in evening newscasts.

To catch viewers in the late afternoon, WKMG added a 4 p.m. news. WOFL plans to increase its early-evening presence with a 5 p.m. newscast early next year.

As the race continues and new residents keep flocking in, station managers are closely monitoring the growth trends.

“The forecasts call for the market to double in size over the next 50 years,” says Maldonado. “We are growing in market stature.”