More so than in most markets, ownership plays a huge part in station performance in Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Media General invested substantially in WNCN since acquiring it from NBC in 2006, hiring some 50 new staffers in the past year. Longtime leader WRAL credits its success to owner Capitol Broadcasting, based right in Raleigh.
“Local ownership makes a big difference,” says WRAL Director of Programming John Harris. “They really care about pouring resources back into the station; I'm sure we have the largest news department in the state.”
Capitol's investment is showing significant returns. The CBS affiliate cleaned up in the November sweeps, winning total day ratings, besting ABC O&O WTVD by a hair in late news, and grabbing evening and morning news titles, too.
Raleigh-Durham, featuring the so-called “Triangle” of research universities Duke, University of North Carolina and N.C. State, is an exceptionally well-educated market with a young-skewing populace. Besides education, high-tech and pharmaceuticals are major local industries. Managers say the market has added more than 200,000 households in the past decade; it shifted from the No. 29 DMA to No. 28 in the fall, and may move up another peg in the near future.
But despite its growth, the DMA is ranked No. 35 in terms of revenue. Raleigh-Durham booked $165.7 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial, and WRAL led the 2006 breakdown with $47 million, ahead of WTVD's $42.8 million. Besides WRAL, Capitol also owns Fox outlet WRAZ, while Sinclair owns the MyNetworkTV and CW affiliates.
Like many TV markets, political spending will drive Raleigh's 2008 TV economy. Besides the presidential election, which for the moment counts local boy John Edwards among the Democratic challengers, a governor's race and Senate seat are up for grabs.
Stations are well equipped to handle the onslaught of news stemming from the presidential slugfest. WNCN added its “newscast of record” 7 p.m. news in March 2006, and will unveil a new set later this month. President/General Manager Barry Leffler, a holdover from the NBC O&O days, says Media General has shown more willingness to grow the station. “As we were among NBC's smallest markets, we weren't always a big priority for them,” he says. “It's far better to be a big fish in a small pond than a guppy in the ocean of GE.”
WTVD, whose November prime was a virtual tie with WRAL, launched a revamped Website last month (the whole ABC O&O group got the new sites). Featuring a large Flash player in the middle of the screen, the site more resembles television than a typical station site. Also new is the boss—John Idler, the station sales manager from 2000 to 2002, became president and general manager in mid-December after Bernie Prazenica moved to WPVI Philadelphia. “It's great to be back in this area,” says Idler. He won't share much about his plans for WTVD but says introducing local high-definition programming is “the biggest thing on the radar screen.”
Speaking of HD, WRAL debuted it for the Super Bowl way back in 2001. The station, which produces morning and late news for sister WRAZ, also features a rare full-time documentary department that produces seven to eight hard-hitting, locally focused programs a year. Says Harris: “It's another indication of what ownership thinks we should be doing in the local market.”
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