Upwardly Mobile Madison

As the state capital and the home of the University of Wisconsin, Madison boasts an exceptionally well-educated, Web-savvy, discriminating populace. It also has a rich news tradition—and one that's getting richer all the while.

Several stations are adding newscasts—WKOW added 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. last January, while WMTV unveiled 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. programs late in 2006, and also added weekend programs. The extra news content is a natural fit for the market, especially with a blockbuster presidential campaign in the offing.

“With a very educated market, we think we're better off with local news than syndication,” says WMTV VP/GM Bob Smith. “We don't have Dr. Phil or Oprah, so we thought, why not local news?”

Still, some believe more news isn't necessarily good news. “In my view, it's too much news for a market our size,” says WISC EVP/General Manager David Sanks.

Sanks heads up the news leader in Madison. The market took in a projected $56.2 million in 2007, with Morgan Murphy's CBS outlet WISC grabbing $19.13 million in 2006, ahead of Quincy Newspapers' ABC outlet WKOW ($15.13 million), Gray's NBC affiliate WMTV ($12.5 million) and Sinclair's Fox station WMSN ($10.68 million).

WISC won total day and primetime ratings in May (the last sweeps numbers available), along with morning, evening and late news—the latter posting an 8.9 household rating/24.9 share at 10. (WMSN, airing at 9, tallied a next-best 6.9/13.6.)

Sanks credits fewer commercial breaks, an airy set and harder-hitting reports. “I think there's more substance to the news, more of what's relevant to the viewer,” he says. “We don't do hype—we're not just reading headlines.”

While the TV economy has slowed, station managers describe the Madison market as vibrant; Nielsen's No. 85 DMA comes in at No. 76 in terms of revenue. Besides government and the university, health care and high-tech are major industries; Madison was also the birthplace of the beloved satire newspaper The Onion before it shipped off to New York in 2001. The Green Bay Packers are the toast of all Wisconsin, as Brett Favre and the boys embark on the NFL playoffs. (WKOW airs the Packers' pre-season games.)

Stations are looking beyond traditional newscasts to extend their reach. WKOW is supplying video, breaking news and weather information to Madison.com, which VP/GM Kevin Harland calls one of the top newspaper Websites in the country, in terms of traffic (it's a joint effort between the Capital Times, Wisconsin State Journal and WKOW). Under new News Director Chris Gegg, WMTV is playing up interactivity on the Web, in the form of user polls and free classifieds.

WMSN offers “High School Yearbook,” featuring the homepages of dozens of high schools, and streams syndicated episodes of Two and a Half Men on Fox47.com. WBUW, meanwhile, has put its own mark on its Daily Buzz feed with “Buzzed Into Madison” inserts. VP/General Manager Tom Keeler calls “Buzzed” host Emmy Fink the face of the station: “She's an up and comer in this market, and she captures the feel of Madison.”

Managers say Madison's hip vibe makes it a favorable market to live in. “It's got a big-city feel for a smaller town,” says Harland. “There could be a little less snow, but it's a good place to live.”

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Michael Malone

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.