TV healthier than local economy

The Springfield-Holyoke, Mass., market is down the turnpike from Boston and just up the road from Hartford, Conn., with which it shares an airport and some signal overlap. But where the much larger Boston and Hartford markets have several TV stations apiece and all the networks, Springfield-Holyoke has just two full-power commercial stations: LIN's WWLP(TV) and Sinclair's WGGB-TV. Both are older stations; WWLP is the nation's oldest operating UHF, celebrating 50 years on the air next year.

Hartford stations come into the market over the air and via cable, but the markets are clearly distinct, and the Hartford stations don't take ad dollars from the Springfield-Holyoke market, say local executives.

The market has extremely high cable penetration: 85%. According to WWLP General Manager Bill Pepin, that's at least partly a function of Northeast urban congestion. "Here, if you run a cable down the street, you can connect 30 homes. In Iowa, you run a cable down the street, you might connect two homes."

The television economy may be healthier than the local economy overall. The 2000 census showed the poverty rate for Springfield and Holyoke to be nearly three times the state average and more than twice the national average. Median family income dropped over the past decade in much of the market.

WWLP leads the market, with nearly $15 million in 2001 revenue, with WGGB-TV a bit behind at $13.6 million. Data from BIA Financial shows that the market dropped just under 9% from the record $31.5 million in revenue for 2000 to $28.5 million in 2001. BIA predicts steady, single-digit revenue growth for the next few years, even as the market experiences a steady decline in population. "In markets around this size," Pepin notes, "a little shift in population can make a real difference. Twenty years ago, we were [DMA] No. 93."