Storm team: NBC29 sweeps new Nielsens


In Charlottesville's rapidly expanding television market that added two new stations in the past year, one thing remains unchanged: NBC29 is still the big gun.

Nielsen numbers for the February sweeps show NBC29 with an average of 11,886 viewers. The new kids in town, WCAV Channel 19 and WVAW Channel 16, pulled in averages of 656 and 534 respectively.

"We were very pleased with our most recent Nielsen ratings, and we appreciate the support of viewers in Charlottesville," says Jim Fernald, NBC29 general sales manager.

WCAV/WVAW general manager Roger Burchett is unperturbed: "We've been open six months. They've been around 30 years." He adds, "I'd certainly like to discuss numbers two years from now."

Particularly disparate are the numbers for the head-to-head six o'clock newscasts. NBC29 rules with over 32,000 viewers, while the CBS affiliate, WCAV, draws just 499 viewers. And WVAW, airing Seinfeld episodes, pulls in 354 rerun watchers.

Even gloomier for WCAV, it trails a non-local CBS station, WTVR Channel 6, the Richmond affiliate that's consistently the number-two rated station in Charlottesville.

"At the stage we're in, the numbers mean nothing," says Burchett. "We're developing a news product people will want to watch. Quality means a lot to us. We're in this for the long haul."

"The raw numbers are not surprising for a start-up," observes Pam Fitzgerald at the Ivy Group, an advertising and PR firm. "They have a challenge to build integrity and quality of their local news coverage."

Nor do the low Nielsens necessarily doom the new stations' ability to attract advertisers. "Both stations are offering very attractive first-time rates," says Fitzgerald. "I would suggest anyone considering TV really ought to look hard at the ultimate cost of reaching a customer– and don't leave cable and public TV out of the mix."

Atlanta-based Gray Television owns the two new major-network affiliates, and has acquired another station, WADA, from PAX TV. Grey plans to convert WADA to a new Fox station called WAHU.

Not every viewer is thrilled with the sprouting of yet another new TV station. Aer Stephen sees it as a "dilution" of the news market.

"We had a great thing in Charlottesville to watch CBS and Fox hubs in Washington," says Stephen. With the advent of WCAV, Adelphia cable dropped WUSA, the CBS affiliate out of Washington.

"I think it's horrible and atrocious," Stephen complains. "How much news does Charlottesville have? Not enough for four TV stations. Part of the quality of living here was to be connected to the nation's pulse."

As far as Stephen is concerned, the Washington local news market offers the highest paid and most talented people. And broadcasting news from the nation's capital is "way more important," he says, "than who crashed on I-64 or sat in a cherry picker. I just cringed when we lost the CBS station," WUSA.

Adelphia area VP Curt Bourge reports that the cable company has no intention of dropping Fox station WTTG out of Washington.

The bigger question remains whether Charlottesville can support four local television stations.

"I really do believe competition is good for the market and ultimately better for the consumer," says NBC29's Fernald.

Fitzgerald agrees. "You never want to buy media in a market where there's one dominant player. Fortunately, we have choices in newspapers, radio, and now television."