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WSB Set Sights on Big-Market Rivals

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Atlanta’s ABC affiliate, WSB-TV, had crushed the local competition for so long that 10 years ago, the station’s general manager Greg Stone decided to raise the bar. He wanted the Cox-owned station to win across the board against all stations in the other top 10 markets.
Ten years later, the report card is stellar. In May 2003 the station’s ratings were first in 15 of 18 news time periods throughout the week when compared not only to Atlanta stations but to all stations in the top 10 markets.
“I really felt as though we needed an additional motivation above and beyond winning in Atlanta,” said Mr. Stone. “Over the years it has given us all something additional to work for above and beyond the success we are having in our own market. Obviously, we continue to watch the competitive factors here at home, because that’s what we live and die by, but [measurement against other top 10 market stations] has been a checkpoint in our progress and has become a motivating factor and something that we have big cheers for when we hit a milestone like this past May,” he said.
The all-important late local news at 11 p.m. scored an 11.7 rating/21 share in households in May 2003, up from a 10.7/19 a year ago, representing an increase of nearly 20,000 households. Only Post-Newsweek-owned NBC affiliate WDIV-TV in Detroit had a better 11 p.m. late news rating in May for top 10 markets, with its whopping 14.6/24.
WSB will look closely at WDIV’s product to see if there are areas where it can improve.
“We look at WDIV in Detroit right now and say they are 3 ratings points ahead. That gives us something to shoot for,” Mr. Stone said.
In its market in May 2003 WSB captured about 58 percent of the ratings points on average for its news programs, compared with 18 percent for Gannett Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate WXIA-TV and 16 percent for Fox owned-and-operated station WAGA-TV.
The station’s nationwide dominance is motivating, but the news shop still needs to concentrate on Atlanta, said Jennifer Rigby, news director for WSB.
“Day to day we are focused on beating the competition and doing the best news possible. We go out there and fight every day,” she said.
In the past few months the station broke the story nationally of the capture of bombing suspect Eric Robert Rudolph, who had been hiding in North Carolina and has been charged in connection with the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing, Ms. Rigby said.
Recently, WSB first reported on the free-spending habits of the CEO of Atlanta’s rapid transit system and on metro-area Pickens County’s potential overspending on tornado cleanup. WSB’s reports saved taxpayers about $30 million, Ms. Rigby said.
The station’s veteran team includes the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor, John Pruitt, who has reported and anchored in Atlanta for 39 years; co-anchor Monica Kaufman, who has been with the station for 28 years; chief meteorologist Glenn Burns, with 22 years under his belt at WSB; 18-year veteran sports anchor Chuck Dowdle; and longtime reporters Diana Davis, John Dore and Bill Nigut, each of whom has been with the station for 15 or more years.
Their tenure speaks to trust and credibility with viewers, Mr. Stone said.
“It’s not just that people are used to them and know them, but the fact that we can deliver those ratings speaks to their talent and the credibility, and that comes out every time they are [on-air],” he said.