News

All Systems Go in SoFlo

News-rich Miami-Fort Lauderdale market rebounds after harsh hurricane hit 11/20/2017 8:00 AM Eastern

In this age of station group consolidation, a couple of diminutive groups stand out in Miami. WSVN is part of Sunbeam Television, which also owns WHDH and WLVI in Boston. WPLG, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, is in an even smaller group — it’s the only TV station in the varied Berkshire Hathaway business bunch.

The other Miami owners are giants. Comcast/NBCUniversal has NBC’s WTVJ and Telemundo’s WSCV. CBS owns O&O WFOR and MyNetworkTV-affiliated WBFS. Univision has WLTV and WAMI. Tribune Media holds The CW affiliate WSFL.

But the smaller groups’ stations play big in DMA No. 16, none more so than Fox affiliate WSVN. It offers flashy news product, and a lot of it — the station cranks out 66½ hours a week of local news. “We’re thought of as the news station in the market,” said Bob Leider, WSVN executive vice president and general manager.

Leider had taken a consulting role at Sunbeam in 2014, but when Chris Wayland, former Sunbeam executive VP, shifted to Tribune in 2016, Leider came back to a full-time role. Sunbeam plans on naming a new executive VP soon.

Leider has worked for Sunbeam owner Ed Ansin for 43 years. When the recession struck in 2008, most every station laid off personnel. Leider said Ansin did not. That pays off almost a decade later.

“We have the largest staff, the most anchors on-air,” he said. “We’re all over every story.”

That includes Hurricane Irma, which struck in September. It gave the stations a chance to shine. “Irma really put our value to the community to the test,” said Adam Levy, WFOR-WBFS VP and general manager.

The storm saw the news stations stay with continuous coverage for three-plus days. Coinciding with Irma’s arrival, WFOR launched a 7 p.m. newscast. “We’re really excited and focused on that,” said Levy. “It’s the only 7 p.m. news in the market.”

WPLG, for its part, added 9 a.m. news last year, and moved its weekend news up a half-hour to 5 a.m.

The major cable operator is Comcast, which did its part during Irma as well. Comcast deployed drones over the Florida Keys to shoot HD images of the storm’s impact, helping the cable colossus work out its rebuilding strategy. It set down more than 4.5 million feet of new cable to replace damaged lines, and opened up all of its Florida WiFi hotspots, of which there are 137,000, for free to customers and non-customers alike.

AT&T’s U-verse TV also provides television services to the market.

Playing to a Diverse Market
Miami-Fort Lauderdale is a very diverse market. Residents are just about 50% of Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. “It’s a very, very wealthy Hispanic community,” said one Miami television veteran who asked not to be named. Telemundo Studios has five stages in the market, and produces around 800 hours of primetime programming. A new Telemundo facility, to open in early 2018, will house 13 studios.

The TV vet likened the region to “Hollywood for Hispanic programming.”

The Hispanic presence is felt on-air, with anchors at times in eye-catching outfits, and newscasts jazzed up with noisy music and graphics. None does it better than WSVN. “You just learn the culture, and it’s helped us,” Leider said. “They don’t want a boring newscast.” When Sunbeam’s WHDH Boston lost its NBC affiliation in January, it had the playbook of WSVN to study from. Back in 1989, WSVN, a former NBC affiliate, aligned with Fox.

With Alice Jacobs as its VP of news, WSVN put up a 1.4 in viewers 25-54 at 6 a.m. in October, ahead of WPLG’s 0.9. WSCV won 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., while WSVN was tops among English-language stations, with WPLG the runner-up. At 11 p.m. in October, WSCV did a 2.6, WSVN a 1.3, WLTV a 1.2 and WPLG a 0.9.

WSVN and WPLG thrive by covering stories of interest to Miami viewers that happen in other markets, such as the terror attack in Manhattan earlier this month, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas in October. “We travel for stories,” Leider said.

WPLG opened bureaus in Washington, D.C., Cuba and Caracas, Venezuela, early in 2017. When a reporter and photojournalist set up shop in Havana in January, the Miami Herald noted WPLG’s “distinction of being the first local station in the United States to have a news crew in Cuba on a full-time basis.”

Bert Medina, WPLG president and general manager, said it’s how the station does business. “If it happens in the Caribbean, or Latin America, or the Northeast or Israel, it’s local news to us,” said Medina, who described the station philosophy as “big, bold and impactful.”

The economy took its lumps during Irma, but appears to be getting back on track. “It’s still a good economy, but it’s off,” Leider said.

The stations will do everything they can to steal ratings points from each other. WFOR has the bulk of the Miami Dolphins games. WPLG will debut SoFlo Health, the third show in its SoFlo franchise, next year. WTVJ and WSCV have stepped up their investigative teams, as well as their consumer investigative units; the latter has recovered around $750,000 for consumers in the market.

The stations are already gearing up for next year’s political races. “I don’t think there’s another market in the country,” said Medina, “that makes as much news as the Miami-Fort Lauderdale market.”

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