With WSVN still No. 1, WTVJ and WPLG are adding newscasts, and personnel. “The market is as competitive as it’s ever been,” says WTVJ GM Larry Olevitch. “We have English-language stations battling it out on one side. Spanish-language stations are battling it out for their audiences. And we’re all fighting the fact that consumers can get news wherever they want it.”
Local News Competition Heats Up In Miami
After 20 years or so of domination in English-language news by Sunbeam Fox affiliate WSVN, two of Miami’s three other Big Four affiliates — NBC’s WTVJ and Post-Newsweek’s ABC affiliate WPLG — are stepping up efforts to close the gap — or at least secure a firm hold on the market’s No. 2 news ranking.
The most obvious manifestation of the intensifying competition has been more news from the two stations.
In January, WPLG launched a one-hour newscast at 4 p.m., a slot that used to belong to Dr. Oz. The newscast goes head-to-head with WSVN, the only other affiliate with news at that hour.
WTVJ followed by offering a 4:30 a.m. newscast during NBC’s Olympics coverage in February and liked it enough to make it permanent.
“The market is as competitive as it’s ever been,” says WTVJ GM Larry Olevitch. “We have English-language stations battling it out on one side. Spanish-language stations are battling it out for their audiences. And we’re all fighting the fact that consumers can get news wherever they want it.”
March ratings provided by WSVN show it winning early morning news by a wide margin with a 1.6 in the key news demo, adults, 25-54; WTVJ ranked second with a 0.8; WPLG had a 0.7; and WFOR was fourth with a 0.4.
During the evening news block, WSVN is averaging a 1.2; WFOR and WTVJ tied for second with 0.6 ratings; and WPLG was fourth with a 0.5. (For WSVN, the block runs from 5 to 7 p.m.; for the others, it goes from 5 to 6:30 p.m.)
WSVN is also No. 1 at 11 p.m. for the month, earning a 1.3; WPLG was second with a 1.2; WTVJ third at 1.0; and WFOR fourth with a 0.8.
WTVJ has been the market’s principal change agent. In less than three years, the station escaped the market cellar to regularly rate No 2 in mornings and evenings, according to Olevitch.
The growth is the one result of a full-scale overhaul of all the NBC -owned stations that started soon after Comcast took over NBC in early 2011. Comcast bought in a new head for the group (Valari Staab) and poured resources into the stations.
At WTVJ, the makeover was largely orchestrated by Manny Martinez, Olevitch’s predecessor who was promoted to run the Telemundo station group by Staab last fall. Among other things, Martinez embraced the market’s huge Hispanic population.
Sharing a newsroom with co-owned WSCV, the Telemundo affiliate, also has boosted WTVJ’s ability to reach Miami’s bilingual Hispanic viewers, many of who watch TV in both languages, Olevitch says.
The stations share content, resources and ideas. Olevitch says he proactively tries to reach Latino viewers by promoting WTVJ in Spanish-language media.
Olevitch says rebranding the station from NBC Miami to NBC South Florida in 2012 also played a big role in the station’s turnaround, primarily because it helped dispel the perception that WTVJ served only one city in the sprawling three-county market. “It was at that point we said exactly who we are and it gave us the ability to expand,” he says.
WPLG News Director Bill Pohovey didn’t want to talk about his station’s new early fringe newscast or its competitive strategy other than to say “we are always evolving the product.” Pohovey’s reluctance may stem from the fact that he is getting a new boss soon. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway announced two weeks ago a deal to acquire the station from Graham Holdings, the parent of Post-Newsweek stations.
Johnny Diaz, who covers local TV for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, says WPLG has been making changes to give itself the younger vibe WSVN is known for. New graphics, having anchors move around the newsroom and an overall faster pace add to that feel, Diaz says.
Rather than chase the biggest possible audience, WFOR seems to be focused on older viewers, specifically a non-standard demo, adults, 35-64.
“People of that age are buying more homes, more electronics and more furniture” than any other, he says. “That demographic also aligns with who’s watching television.”
WFOR’s most recent upgrades involve talent. Irika Sargent, a Cornell Law School grad who has been working at KPRC Houston, who will co-anchor the 5 and 11 p.m. news starting in May. Morning news also has a new co-anchor, Walter Makaula, who moved from Fox affiliate KSWB San Diego.
While its rival scramble, WSVN is largely sitting tight, says General Manager Robert Leider. Big changes aren’t necessary because its strategy of delivering 11 hours of “contemporary” news a day is working, he says. “We don’t have to do those things because we’re the leader.”
News rating battles never end, of course. “Who knows what’s going to happen?” Olevitch says. “We are progressive and will find other ways to grow our brand and be everywhere.”