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Southern Vitality

Tampa-St. Pete's rep as a sleepy Gulf Coast resort town is history. The booming market produces an average 40,000 new jobs annually and recently surpassed Miami-Ft. Lauderdale as Florida's biggest TV market. It's the birthplace of Home Shopping Network and headquarters of Nielsen Media Research.

And the TV scene is bustling. Viacom's WTOG, a UPN station, recently hired Frank Detillio from WBMA Birmingham, Ala., to replace Mike Conway, who retired in February. Bill Carey joined Scripps Howard ABC affiliate WFTS early this year from sister station WXYZ Detroit, succeeding Sam Stallworth, who died in December.

Carey has his work cut out for him. Launched as an independent station in 1981, WFTS joined Fox in 1988, then picked up ABC in 1994. The station's 6 p.m. newscast finished fourth in the February sweeps. To boost its newscasts, the station has beefed up its investigative unit—with mixed results. Three Tampa police officers sued WFTS in December, claiming a series on "undeserved promotions" invaded their privacy. The case is pending.

Area residents turn to WTSP and WFLA first for news. Gannett's CBS affiliate WTSP, riding a strong lead-in from Dr. Phil, topped household news ratings at 6 p.m. Media General's NBC outlet, WFLA, finished first at 11 p.m. But they aren't the only players in town. Sinclair's WB affiliate WTTA launched a 10 p.m. newscast last August. The program barely made a blip in February, scoring a 1 rating/1 share.

The real action is in the mornings. WFLA's Today
gets healthy competition, usually running neck-and-neck with Fox O&O WTVT's four-hour local-news block. "People like that mix of local information, traffic reports, and feature stories," says Eric Deggans, TV critic at the St. Petersburg Times.

In cable, Bright House Networks, a division of Advance/Newhouse, is the region's major operator, running the Tampa Bay Interconnect. Its Bay News 9, a 24-hour cable channel, has been one of the more successful local-news channels, says Bright House Division President Kevin Hyman, "a full-scale competitor to broadcasters."

The market's Hispanic population is growing rapidly. Entravision owns two Univision network affiliates: WVEA Venice, Fla., and a low-power satellite in Tampa. Univision owns its Telefutura outlet, WFTT. WRMD, the Telemundo affiliate, is owned by ZGS Broadcasting. One more sign of the thriving market.

Sources: Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.