Skip to main content

Washington Has Its Issues

Click here for more Market Eye articles

The past season was another dud for the Redskins, but Washingtonians are still tuning in to TV on Sundays. Sunday morning has emerged as an unlikely battleground for Washington’s TV stations, with a host of niche shows jockeying for the attention of the lawmakers and industry leaders who shape the nation’s policy. Last month, WJLA kicked off Washington Business Report Sundays at 9:30 a.m. WUSA’s Sunday “Power Block” features new shows dedicated to energy and biotech. And longtime local news leader WRC will soon launch a public affairs program airing following President Obama’s weekly radio address that Jackie Bradford, station president/general manager, says “fi ts with Sunday morning programming.”

There’s a decent amount of ad revenue in play on Sunday mornings in D.C., especially with what looks like a busy season for political issues money shaping up. “There’s been a great deal of interest, both in terms of audience and advertisers,” says Bill Lord, WJLA VP/station manager. “So much business here is an amalgam of business and government.”

And stations aren’t just competitive on Sundays— Washington’s local TV race has not been this hot for several years. “The market’s become very tight,” says Allan Horlick, WUSA president/ GM. “It’s very competitive in a lot of dayparts.”

NBC Local Media’s WRC has held the ratings and revenue crown for eons, but its lead is shrinking. Thanks to a market-best November sweeps primetime and an increased weather presence, Allbritton’s WJLA took November’s late-news household title by the slimmest of margins; the ABC affiliate’s 4.13 rating/8.3 share finished a hair ahead of WRC’s 4.07/8.2. WRC won adults 25-54 by a similarly slim margin.

The Big Four network stations finished November within a point of each other in primetime household ratings. WRC won the morning and early evening news races and is working hard to reclaim the 11 p.m. crown. “The entire market trusts our news team,” says Bradford, singling out anchor Jim Vance.

And don’t count out Gannett CBS affiliate WUSA, which saw its late news ratings grow 30% in adults 25-54 last November compared to November 2009, thanks to greater emphasis on breaking news, a strong social media strategy and consistent leadership from news director Fred D’Ambrosi. “I tell our people, when you talk to your friends and neighbors, tell them to watch these shows,” GM Horlick says. “They are smokin’—I put them up against anybody’s.”

DMA No. 9 also includes Fox-owned WTTG and MyNetworkTV affiliate WDCA, and Tribune’s CW affiliate WDCW. Spanishlanguage channels include Univision’s WFDC and the Telemundo affiliate WZDC. The market includes Hagerstown, Md.

WTTG posted a 3.7 household rating with its 10 p.m. news in November, and VP/GM Duffy Dyer says the station continues to shake up its news formula: “We add more viewpoints and increase the dialogue,” he says. “People realize when they tune in that it’s not the same thing they got two months ago.”

Stations are extending their reach to better connect with viewers. WRC debuted the digital channel Nonstop in October and added an 11:30 p.m. sports show on Feb. 13. WUSA’s Web ventures include 53 “Where You Live” community sites and a sales partnership with Yahoo; the station was first in the market with a 4:30 a.m. news last March. WJLA recently added 11:35 p.m. news on Saturdays and Sundays, and shares its newsroom with Politico. “They’re a force of nature,” says Lord. “We use them on our air all the time—it’s a whole houseful of experts.” Local TV revenue was up around 20% last year, and 2011 is off to a strong start. Issues ad dollars centered on healthcare and energy could make it a very good year for stations. “People are always trying to get at Congress,” says Bradford. “It’s a nice element of being in Washington.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

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.