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Jacksonville market makes the shift

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For WJXT-TV this is Independence Day.
The Post-Newsweek station that was Jacksonville, Fla.’s Goliath for 53 years cast off its CBS affiliation at the stroke of midnight and now hopes to prove itself an independent David who can still claim the biggest chunk of revenue in a $100 million-a-year market by programming a lineup of syndicated fare and eight-plus hours of news a day.
Across town, WTEV-TV, which until a couple of years ago was running paid programming in midday, now is the CBS affiliate, and the UPN programming it carried has moved to late-nights on sister station WAWS-TV, the Fox affiliate. Thus, the young Clear Channel Media Center, already expanding the limits of one-stop media shopping, now includes a two-station TV triopoly as well as seven radio stations Clear Channel owns and four it manages, plus Clear Channel Outdoor billboard sales and production.
“We are pumped,” said Clear Channel Television President Bill Moll. “We are so pumped we can’t stand it.”
After an 80-day whirlwind of preparations for the switch, WAWS-WTEV General Manager Susan Adams Loyd is confident that “we’ll be much more a force to be reckoned with. Where previously we had lots of properties in this market-radio, outdoor, TV-the fact that we are all under one roof will maybe make people suddenly see the power and the strength of that synergy where they hadn’t necessarily paid as much attention to it”-not to mention being able to tout carriage of 15 out of 16 Jacksonville Jaguars games between Fox Sports on WAWS and CBS Sports on WTEV.
“There is absolutely no way we can lose,” said Josh McGraw, president of the Clear Channel Media Center renovated only last year that’s already at the brink of capacity again because of equipment and personnel additions related to the switch.
Ken Tonning, general manager of Gannett-owned NBC affiliate WTLV-TV and ABC affiliate WJXX-TV, feels his NBC station also cannot lose.
WTLV has been WJXT’s closest competitor for revenue (the NBC affiliate accounts for about 22 percent of the take in the market, the 53rd largest in the country), and viewership in the designated market area, which is the youngest-skewing in Florida, is growing and becoming more white collar and less blue collar. Insurance, banking, healthcare and shipping are big.
WJXT General Manager Sherry Burns said her station’s share of market revenue “hovers” around 30 percent, which in last year’s down market worked out to some $29.75 million, according to data from BIA Financial Network.
Clear Channel’s WAWS, meanwhile, took in some $15 million, followed by Gannett’s WJXX at $12.2 million and Clear Channels’s WTEV at $10.1 million.
Ms. Burns and Post-Newsweek Television President Alan Frank insist they are confident that WJXT, which now will control all its inventory, will remain the No. 1 biller and can even maintain its revenue share even under pressure from increased programming costs and some decreases in ratings-not to mention the loss of CBS compensation thought to have been around $2 million a year.
Compounding the pressure related to the switch is the July book, which started last Friday, and recent confusion about the Nielsen Media Research sample. Nielsen has been busy the past few weeks trying to replace an unusually high number of households that had unexpectedly left the sample (plus, Nielsen had to make software changes as a result of seven sample homes affected by a digital upgrade by Time Warner Cable). The sample is supposed to include approximately 410 homes, with 360 to 370 of those “in tab,” or reporting on any given day. New installations had brought the sample back up to 405 (with 365 in tab) by last Wednesday.
A Nielsen spokesman expressed confidence in the data that is being produced by the meters but said the July diaries will be carefully scrutinized for signs of confusion.
Ms. Burns and Mr. Frank expect WJXT to slip to No. 2 sign-on to sign-off, mostly because of audience erosion in prime time, where “Frasier” and “Cheers” repeats and a 10 o’clock newscast have replaced the CBS lineup-which performed better on WJXT than in most of the country. But, said Mr. Frank, prime time represented only 17 percent of the station’s revenue in its CBS salad days. And now, instead of having 13 prime-time spots to sell each night, the station has 56.
Peggy Madigan, WJXT’s general sales manager, said prime-time spots will be the toughest sell because many buyers want first-run programming, but without network programming on weekend days, there is the opportunity for paid programming.
The station is retaining “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at 4 p.m. weekdays. It will add spinoff “Dr. Phil” at 3 p.m. in fall. “That thing is selling itself,” said Ms. Madigan, who said there has been no change on her sales staff, which is paid solely on commission.
At WJWB-TV, the strong WB affiliate that billed more than $10 million last year, General Manager Mike Liff also expects to benefit from the confusion elsewhere in the market-as well as from the increased late-night news competition-which he figures will make his news-free lineup a more attractive alternative to viewers.