Struggling Buckeye

Can you imagine anyone fighting over Toledo? Wait until this year's presidential election, when winning in Ohio's urban centers will be crucial. No president has ever been elected without winning Ohio.

As in nearby Detroit, the automotive industry is a big employer. But, in the Midwest and Ohio particularly, the economy is suffering. Since 1995, Toledo has lost 4,500 jobs, attributable to NAFTA, a new report says. Ohio itself has lost 233,000 jobs since the 2000 recession.

Market research firm BIA projects 2004 TV ad revenue will reach about $55 million, less than in 1997 and just $2 million more than last year. The market size dropped a notch to No. 69 in Nielsen's latest ranking and is likely to fall at least two spots next year as the South grows and the Midwest retreats.

Partly because the economy has made voters edgy, the area will be a big ad playground during this election year. "We expect to see political dollars all year. President Bush is buying 60 markets right after the [March 2] primary, and we are one of them," said Linda Blackburn, general sales manager at Liberty Corp.'s market-leading WTOL, in an interview last month.

CBS affiliate WTOL is the longtime winner in both local news and total-day ratings. WTVG, the ABC O&O, places a solid second. On the network front, the Big Four affiliates have the dial pretty much to themselves. The WB programming is delivered only on cable, and UPN station WNGT is low-power.

Buckeye Cablevision is the market's primary provider. Cable penetration mirrors the national average, about 68%. The 15% satellite penetration, on the other hand, is slightly below the national average of 18%. Local stations are not available on either DirecTV or Dish Network.

News competition in the market is heating up. LIN Broadcasting's WUPW launched the market's first 4 p.m. newscast in January to complement its nightly 10 p.m. show, which has won a regional Emmy two years running.

"There's a lot going on here," says WTVG News Director Brian Trauring. "It's not often we struggle to find a lead story." And certainly not this November.