Tough times in Terre Haute

Terre Haute, Ind., DMA No. 145, covers a broad, rural area that includes 16 counties in Indiana and nine in Illinois. It has three full-power commercial stations; with no local ABC affiliate, that network's programming is cabled in.

The town had a tough 2001, dropping about 15% from the previous year, nearly taking it back to mid 1990s revenue levels. The market lacks giant retailers, but automotive and fast food are typically prominent among advertisers.

It's an older-skewing market with a population that's stagnant, at best, possibly even shrinking. "Most of our communities are small towns with 10,000 or fewer people," says David Bailey, WTHI-TV general manager and a veteran of the market since the 1960s. "And most of our revenue comes from Terre Haute."

Bailey's Emmis-owned WTHI-TV and Nexstar's WTWO(TV) are the market's No. 1 and 2 stations, respectively, both VHFs. The combination of Fox's younger demos, UHF signal and no local satellite carriage in the highly satellite-penetrated market creates a competitive disadvantage for Bahakel Communications's WBAK-TV, which trails in both ratings and revenue. "Based on our ratings, we get a fair share of advertising," says WBAK-TV general manager John Newcomb. "We've got to raise our ratings."

Both Bailey and Newcomb find that local sales provide the market's growth potential. "With the economy the way it is," notes Bailey, "national advertising in markets this size is going to decrease. So you've got to be growing locally. All our salespeople are expected to sit down with business owners and develop a marketing and sales plan. We look for businesses with the potential to grow beyond their community."

Newcomb says WBAK-TV is involved in urban-renewal efforts. "Terre Haute is a huge regional center. The more we can do to strengthen that, the more it will help us," he says.