If a dupoly is good, a triopoly may be better

Feb 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

At a time when executives are trying to squeeze out more for their money, General Manager Steve Mauldin of CBS-owned WFOR-TV, Miami, is running three stations from one facility and stretching the WFOR news department to do more with less.
In addition to running WFOR and UPN-affiliated sister station WBFS-TV, Miami, Mr. Mauldin is running UPN affiliate WTVX-TV, West Palm Beach, Fla., which is 70 miles to the north.
Viacom closed the deal to buy WTVX in November. It had been run by WBFS in a local marketing agreement until Viacom decided to purchase the station outright. WTVX may be in a different market than the Miami stations, but for all intents and purposes Mr. Mauldin is running a triopoly.
On Jan. 7, WTVX began airing 30-second business updates Monday through Friday between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. The updates are reported by Jennifer Santiago, who is also the WBFS anchor. On Jan. 21, WTVX began airing 30-second local weather briefs two times a night, just before 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. They are reported by meteorologist Craig Setzer, who does the weathercasts on WBFS and used to be the 5:30 p.m. weatherman on WFOR.
WTVX may add news updates. In addition, Mr. Mauldin expects the WFOR news department to produce a weekly entertainment or magazine show that could run on all three stations. The station may tap into its current partnership with the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel newspaper in creating original programming for the show.
The WFOR news department launched a half-hour 10 p.m. newscast on WBFS a week after Sept. 11. That newscast was supposed to be launched this month, but due to the terrorist attack it seemed appropriate to begin it earlier.
“It’s a great story because it came out of the box and we have a WB affiliate here-a Tribune-owned station-which had news produced by [NBC-owned] WTVJ-TV, and we beat them,” Mr. Mauldin said. “I was extremely proud of our people. We wanted to put a newscast on that looked more like UPN than CBS4 [WFOR].”
WBFS is up against the half-hour newscast on Tribune-owned WB affiliate WBZL-TV and the one-hour newscast on Sunbeam-owned Fox affiliate WSVN-TV. Monday through Friday in November, WBFS earned a 2.8 Nielsen Media Research rating and 4 share compared with WBZL, which had a 2.4/4.
The WBFS newscast is produced by the WFOR news staff but fronted by different anchors, Danielle Knox and Ms. Santiago. They are joined by Mr. Setzer and sportscaster Jim Berry, who is also the sports director on WFOR.
The WBFS news is shot on the WFOR news set, but with a little imagination and the need to save money, WFOR staffers changed the whole look of the set for the WBFS newscast.
A day after the WBFS newscast was launched in September, WFOR News Director Shannon High-Bassalik walked onto the WFOR set knowing she needed to give the UPN newscast a different look.
With the help of the WFOR art director, executive producer and production manager, they took a coffee table, put three TV monitors on it and lit the backdrop with more orange tones. Then they went to Office Depot to buy a desk, which was the finishing touch. “It was a collision of creativity,” Ms. High-Bassalik said. “We spent a half-hour creating the set, and that was it.”
“It’s a very high-energy, fast-paced newscast,” Mr. Mauldin said. “It’s got vibrant personalities. I think it’s very reflective of a younger demographic in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area.”
Mr. Mauldin said another positive programming element for the three stations is the Miami Heat’s regular and preseason games, the rights to which they picked up for the next four years. He said 29 games will be on WBFS, 10 will be on WFOR and 20 on WTVX. This is the first season of the deal. “We were able to procure those rights because of our triopoly status,” Mr. Mauldin said. “We learned from the [basketball] team that West Palm Beach is 12 [percent] to 15 percent of their season ticket base. People drive down to see the games.” The Dolphins preseason games also air on WFOR and WTVX.
Everything is run out of WFOR, except for the WTVX sales department, which is still in West Palm Beach.