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Top Three Wage War

There is no love lost between the stations fighting it out in the City of Brotherly Love. Market leader WPVI, an ABC O&O, is fending off NBC’s strong O&O WCAU and CBS’ surging KYW. In November sweeps, WPVI won the critical 11 p.m. news, but just two rating points separated the Big Three stations. Prime time and early news are equally tight.

“Our viewing levels are uncommonly high,” says WPVI President and GM Rebecca Campbell of the country’s fourth-largest TV market. (The DMA covers 18 counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.)

WPVI, the top-rated station for years, got a boost this fall thanks to Desperate Housewives and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. “These successes are helping raise overall viewership,” says Campbell. Similarly, CBS’ prime time supremacy is aiding KYW. The station rose to second place in late news in November, edging out WCAU. “This is our best book in a decade. We have great lead-ins and talent to keep the viewers [for news],” says Peter Dunn, KYW’s president and GM. Sister UPN station WPSG will launch a new morning news show in late January.

A healthy local economy also fuels the stations’ success. The retail industry is humming, and the banking and health sectors—large employers and big TV advertisers—are strong. Downtown is enjoying a revival, and new construction projects abound.

In 2004, the local ad market exploded. Pennsylvania was a political swing state, with Philadelphia a particular focus. The local stations booked nearly $60 million in campaign ads. But even without it, execs estimate the ad market here grew 10% over 2003. Overall, stations garnered $690 million in revenue in 2004, up 9% over 2003, per BIA Financial Network. Next year, without election and Olympic spots, revenue growth will slow to about 1%, with $700 million in revenue.

Come spring, Nielsen will shake up the local ad market when it rolls out its local people meter (LPM). Beginning April 7, Nielsen will report LPM ratings and use the paper diary system for two months. By June 2, LPMs will be the sole method.

Cable penetration is high, and Philly-based Comcast Corp., the country’s largest cable company and the local provider, owns CN8, a regional news channel, and Comcast SportsNet, an area sports network.

Enhancing local connections is important for the stations. WCAU partners with The Philadelphia Inquirer, and KYW teams with Philadelphia Magazine on newscasts. WPVI broadcasts a dozen events, including the Philadelphia Auto Show. Says Campbell, “We are always looking for new ways to share the region with our viewers.”