A Tale of Three Cities

Champaign-Springfield-Decatur is a classic tri-city market, with three distinct communities that may not have quite as much interest in a house fire or school-board meeting on the other side of the DMA. Champaign has the University of Illinois, Springfield’s got the government, and Decatur has a manufacturing base.

What Nielsen calls a market might not be seen that way by residents. “It’s a very provincial market,” says WICS-WICD General Manager Tim Mathis. “People in the small cities might not see themselves as the same community as people in other parts.”

You might need a scorecard to keep the various stations and owners straight. Sinclair owns WICS-WICD, ABC affiliates based in Springfield and Champaign, respectively, with separate newscasts. GoCom Media’s WRSP and WCCU offer a split Fox signal and separate weather reports in the stations’ newscasts. GoCom also owns CW outlet WBUI.

Nexstar owns a CBS-MyNetworkTV duopoly, WCIA-WCFN; and Block Communications has NBC affiliate WAND.

WICS-WICD and WCIA virtually tied in evening news households in February, while WCIA won tight morning and late news races; its 8.0 household rating/17 share at 10 p.m. outgunned WICS’ 7.0 rating/14 share. WICS is stronger in the demo and was tops in 2009 revenue; its $11.1 million topped WCIA’s $10.8 million, according to BIA/Kelsey. WAND rode the Olympics to prime and total-day household wins.

Mathis believes his ABC duo does the best job of covering the vast market’s happenings. The dual news operations share content when appropriate, but each is focused on its home sub-market. “Viewers can count on news that is more relevant to them,” he says.

The market is a stepping stone for news talent. WCIA-WCFN VP/General Manager Russ Hamilton says the stations’ success comes from keeping the popular personalities in Nexstar’s fold. “A lot of talent comes and goes, but we succeed because of all the talent here,” he points out.

Everyone’s pushing to be more local. GoCom’s Foxes put on a 9 p.m. news that’s produced by the Sinclair newsroom, and VP/General Manager Peter O’Brien has localized the CW outlet with “Cmore Weather,” which involves 30-second weather updates every hour.

WAND, which launches a 4:30 p.m. news the first week of June, seeks to own the weather category with a local weather outlet on its .2 channel. “With the top meteorological team and state-of-the-art weather data, we’re branded as the ones to tune to in severe weather,” says President/General Manager Ron Pulera. “That’s our calling, and clearly the viewers identify with it.”

General managers anticipate a lively political season, with governor and senator jobs up for grabs. That will help offset concerns about the economy. By BIA’s count, while the market is the No. 84 DMA, it’s only No. 96 in terms of revenue. All eyes are on Springfield to see how many more state jobs are eliminated.

But bad news from the capital is buffered by the diversity of the tri-cities’ collective portfolio. “We don’t have the high highs and low lows other markets do,” O’Brien says. “We’re a little more protected.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com, and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.