Like that huffing and puffing choo-choo made famous by Glenn Miller, WTVC is pulling ahead in Chattanooga. Growing its market share slowly but surely over the last five years, the ABC affiliate had a May sweeps to celebrate, winning total day ratings, primetime, evening and late news to challenge WRCB for the revenue lead. VP/General Manager Mike Costa says the leaderboard shakeup reflects the Freedom-owned station's hard-hitting philosophy. “We take an investigative approach and dig deeper,” he says. “We focus on the news—it's not a lifestyle product.”
Known as the “Scenic City,” Chattanooga is located just above the Georgia border, with the Tennessee River flowing through the heart of the DMA. That contributes to the market's outdoorsy charm; hikers and boaters abound in the region. The riverfront area is being revitalized, locals and tourists alike drawn to attractions like the Creative Discovery children's museum and the Tennessee Aquarium. The economy is shifting from a manufacturing base, leveraging its natural resources to boost its allure with visitors. “Tourism has gotten to be huge,” says Costa.
Insurance is a major industry in Chattanooga, with Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna and Unum Group employing significant numbers of people. After some sluggish years, the TV economy is picking up, as the furniture and supermarket segments step up their advertising. The market took in $47.4 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, with a flat 2007 projected. WRCB, the Sarkes Tarzian-owned NBC affiliate, booked $15.4 million in 2006, barely ahead of WTVC's $15 million. Also in the game are Morris Multimedia's CBS outlet WDEF and CP Media's Fox outlet WDSI. DSI runs MyNetworkTV on its digital tier, and Meredith is in the process of selling CW affiliate WFLI to MPS Media.
WRCB, which won morning news with a 7 household rating/29 share, is one of two NBC stations owned by Tarzian, an Indiana-based company that was once in the business of manufacturing channel changers in television sets. The station offers WeatherPlus on digital channel 13.2, and is ramping up its digital plans. “We've had a very aggressive effort to develop the Web the last few years,” says President/General Manager Tom Tolar, who recently shifted a full-time sales manager to www.wrcbtv.com.
Several stations are innovating online. WDEF has tapped local broadcasting legend Luther Masingill for “Luther's Page” on its Website, a collection of user-posted pet photos and Craigslist-type classifieds (“Free oak tree down,” read a recent post. “You cut up and haul away”). WDSI offers “Foxcasts”—downloadable audio recaps of Fox programs.
WTVC, which produces the late news for the Fox outlet, sees its Website as an on-demand channel. “We're taking the unique brand of news and entertainment that viewers know us for and migrating and integrating that across all platforms,” says Costa. “And making it available on demand for viewers.”
While its revenue share is a relative drop in the bucket, the CW outlet is focusing on creating better television as well. Make it Better television—WFLI launched parent Meredith's female-skewing morning show in September. General Sales Manager Tony Thompson likes that the Better formula allows for local inserts. “It's as close to local content as we offer,” he says.
The Chattanooga economy may not be going gangbusters, but station managers say they benefit from their proximity to Georgia. “We're neither boom nor bust,” says Costa, “but northern Georgia is a huge growth market.”
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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.