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Top Two Duke It Out

In the Ohio state capital, two local broadcasters are in a fierce battle for ratings supremacy. Locally owned CBS affiliate WBNS, whose parent, Dispatch Printing Co., also owns The Columbus Dispatch newspaper, has swapped the top ranking in recent sweeps with WCMH, NBC’s only O&O station in the state.

In November sweeps, WBNS prevailed as No. 1. On the strength of CBS’ prime time, the station snatched first place in late news away from WCMH, which had won the previous May and November sweeps. WBNS also edged out its rival in morning and early-evening news, although WCMH was a strong second. Both of the other two network affiliates, Sinclair Broadcasting-owned ABC station WSYX and Fox station WTTE, operated by Sinclair, offer late news but lag well behind the two leaders. In November, WBNS’ 11 p.m. 12.2 rating/22 share was higher than the combined numbers for late news on WSYX and WTTE.

WBNS is buoyed by top-rated prime time and big-name syndicated fare: The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Next fall, WCMH will add Martha Stewart’s upcoming reality show, which station VP/GM Craig Robinson has high hopes for. Last year, he passed on NBC Universal’s The Jane Pauley Show.

All stations cater to a well-educated and upscale population. The 34th-largest TV market is home to Ohio State University, the city’s chief employer. “It adds to our arts and culture,” says WBNS VP/GM Tom Griesdorn. “Everything is connected to the university.” OSU’s 40,000 undergrads fuel local businesses such as restaurants and retailers. Another bulwark: A number of Fortune 500 companies, including Limited Brands, Wendy’s, Nationwide Insurance and White Castle, call Columbus home.

Given Ohio’s value in the presidential elections, the TV economy reports a wildly successful 2004, in which $30 million in political ad money poured in. So far this year, the market is “holding up rather well,” reports Griesdorn. Local ad spending is expected to grow in the single digits over last year, excluding political spending. Automotive is the largest advertising category; fast-food, finance, telecommunications and banking are also robust. Columbus stations, which include a Viacom-owned hybrid WB/UPN station, will take in $193.3 million this year, up from $190.4 million in 2004 excluding political, according to BIA Financial Network.

Insight Communications and Time Warner Cable are the major cable operators in central Ohio. Dispatch Printing also owns the Ohio News Network, a regional cable channel that works closely with broadcasters across the state. Says Griesdorn,“This is a news-craving market.” NeXT: pittsburgh