Southern Comfort

From high-tech communities to military bases, the Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville, N.C., region is fueled by a diverse economy. The country’s 29th-largest TV market encompasses three large cities, their sprawling suburbs and surrounding rural counties. And each is distinct: Raleigh is the state capitol, Durham has renowned medical centers, and Fayetteville has a strong military presence.

To service such an expansive market, “a helicopter isn’t a nicety, it is a necessity,” says Jim Hefner, VP/GM of Capitol Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate, WRAL. Both his station and ABC O&O WTVD have choppers, and all local broadcasters have several news bureaus dotted throughout the region. The challenge is to cover both urban and rural areas while making the news relevant to all viewers. Economically, however, the market is thriving.

In 2004, Raleigh-Durham TV stations will take in an estimated $172 million, per BIA Research, up 10% from 2003. Car advertising accounts for 35%-40% of bookings, say station execs. Political spending brought in approximately $12 million this year, but even without it, the DMA’s ad market is hearty, up about 10% through the first three quarters of 2004. That’s better than many larger cities, like Detroit or Cincinnati, where ad growth is pacing in the low single digits. “We were hit by the technology downturn,” says Bernie Prazenica, VP/GM of WTVD, “but the market is firming up, and you can feel the progress.”

WRAL is king of local news. The station commands top ratings in early evening and late news and competes vigorously with WTVD in early-morning news. Locally owned Capitol also owns the Fox affiliate WRAZ, and the WRAL newsroom produces its sister station’s 10 p.m. newscast. WNCN is an NBC O&O; Sinclair Broadcasting runs the local WB and UPN stations: WLFL and WRDC, respectively.

Time Warner Cable is the dominant cable operator here, offering an interconnect that can reach up to 1.6 million cable homes in North and South Carolina. The operator also runs regional news channel News 14 Carolina.

Local talent scores big with viewers. College basketball is extremely popular, and Raleigh-Durham has been among the top metered markets for American Idol, thanks to homegrown stars Clay Aiken, originally from Raleigh, and Fantasia Barrino, who hails from nearby Greensboro. Last spring’s American Idol finale nabbed a 31.3 rating/ 45 share. Only the 2004 Super Bowl, featuring the Carolina Panthers, scored better: a 49.2/66.

Another plus: A growing populace, coupled with a reasonable cost of living, bolsters retail spending. Says John Shannon, VP of sales for NBC’s WNCN: “This is an up-and-coming vibrant area.”