WDIV GM Drutz Is All 4 Detroit

Complete Coverage: Station Stars of 2017

WDIV has long been a ratings behemoth in ultra-competitive Detroit, but Marla Drutz, VP and general manager, had a different goal in mind for 2017. She wanted the station’s website, ClickOnDetroit.com, to be tops in the market among all news and information sites in DMA No. 13, including potent Detroit Free Press site Freep.com and MLive.com.

“We think, if you’re No. 1 in broadcast, you have to be No. 1 in digital,” she said.

The Graham Media Group station’s longtime dedication to standout breaking news has helped, as has a new executive producer of digital, and an array of fresh online initiatives. WDIV has created a pair of daily live-streaming shows, including an extension of its noon news at 12:30.

While the end of the year isn’t quite here, Drutz is happy to report that the WDIV site appears poised to win the 2017 title, thanks to an average of nearly 890,000 monthly unique visitors. “The fat lady hasn’t sung yet,” Drutz said. “But we’re increasingly close to hearing her voice.”

“Local 4” has made the online efforts pay off. Digital revenue represents more than 10% of the station’s core business.

A Fruitful Pet Project

One digital venture that has taken off is All 4 Pets, where residents can share their pet stories and photos, and consume animal-related content. With a high rate of home ownership in the market, Drutz says pet ownership is similarly high, with some 75% of residents claiming a pet. Besides its web component, there have been four All 4 Pets specials on air, with another slated for Dec. 20.

“It’s been a great opportunity to find something that links together a large percentage of the marketplace,” Drutz said.

Another is a dedicated news and information site for Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, a lively restaurant and nightlife scene and boffo business and real estate beats as well. Ann Arbor is about 40 miles west of Detroit, and part of the DMA, but very much its own market. Launching in October, All About Ann Arbor has been “a little bit outside our comfort zone,” Drutz conceded. But the city of 350,000 residents, has been an underserved micro-market in terms of local content, she said. One charter sponsor was on board in late November, with others poised to sign up.

All About Ann Arbor can be a model for subsequent digital destinations, Drutz believes. “We can take it to other communities,” she said, “or other affinity groups.”

Emily Barr, president and CEO of Graham Media Group, said no one is more dedicated to the Detroit scene than the WDIV general manager. “Marla is a local broadcaster who loves, eats and breathes everything about living in a local market,” she said. “She’s a huge motivator to the people she works with, and she’s a motivator to me.”

While many toiling in local television have an eye on a network or corporate job, Drutz’s heart is truly in Detroit. “I don’t know where the national market is on the map,” she said. “I know where Detroit is on the map.”

WDIV was a force in the November ratings. While Fox power WJBK won mornings, WDIV had decisive wins at 5 and 6 p.m., in both households and adults 25-54, and grabbed the 11 p.m. derby with a 6.6 household rating (ahead of E.W. Scripps Co.-owned WXYZ’s 4.9) and 2.5 in 25-54 (WJBK and WXYZ were both at 1.6).

The station has ventured outside its own market to cover key stories. Three WDIV news-gatherers went to Houston to help Graham sibling KPRC as the hurricane loomed. They signed on for a week, and ended up staying for 15 days. Two others went to Orlando, Fla., to help WKMG with hurricane coverage. “I’m really proud that we held up our hand real high,” Drutz said.

WDIV has dedicated some of its most robust coverage to the water crisis in Flint, even though it’s in a different DMA. The station got a Service to America award earlier this year from the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, with its Flint coverage — including a primetime special, Capitol Hill coverage and a statewide telethon that raised $1.4 million — central to being singled out.

“Through news coverage, philanthropy and community service, WDIV puts the needs of viewers first,” NABEF said.

Drutz was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, the trade group’s highest honor. She’s flattered by the recognition, but would rather share it with the WDIV staffers. “Forget about personal achievements,” she said. “What really matters is what we do every single day.”

Barr is all ears whenever Drutz comes to her with a new idea. “I don’t reject too many of them,” said Barr, who describes Drutz as “very detail-oriented and very thoughtful.”

Drutz said she can’t get a new idea off the ground by herself. “We have people who play at the top of their game here,” she said of her WDIV colleagues. “They know the importance we have every single day in serving our community.”

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.