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Economy forces station to slow expansion plans

A tough economy has forced WRWB-TV 16-the area’s newest television affiliate-to modify its future plans.
Launched in December 2000, the local Warner Bros. Television Network affiliate had expected to grab a 5 percent share of Rochester’s $70 million market by 2002.
“We are a little off-track. We did just under 3 percent, when the market revenue is down 20 percent. But we are getting there,” said Tish Robinson, general manager of WRWB.
Robinson last year had planned to launch a local news segment. Those plans have been postponed to 2003.
“That has been delayed because of the market situation. It takes more revenue to hire more people,” she said. “So we are going to put it off for another year.”
Most likely slated for the 10 p.m. time slot, the news will center around entertainment and other interests of the WRWB target audience: 18- to 34-year olds.
“We are very excited to bring that to the Rochester community,” Robinson said. “It will give us a local face and local identity-someone that our audience can identify with.”
WRWB is a part of Rochester Television Ventures LLC, a joint venture of the WB Television Network and Time Warner Cable. The station is Warner Bros.’ first locally programmed and operated cable-only affiliate in the country.
It employs 19 people here.
WRWB moved from channel 26 to channel 16 on the television dial last December. It is available only to cable subscribers.
Changing its channel position and its call letters has helped the station, Robinson said.
“We picked up 44,000 households,” she said. “We have made inroads; the whole embracing of the community has happened.”
Media buyers are encouraged by the station’s performance so far.
“Their biggest task was separating themselves as an independent network and getting that across to the advertising community; that’s where most of their efforts were last year,” said Susan Butler, partner at Butler/Till Media Services Inc.
Although the recent ratings are not official, preliminary results show that the station’s weekend movies have done well.
“Prime time wasn’t the success I had hoped it would be,” WRWB’s Robinson said. “But we had good growth in weekend movies and early fringe time.”
WRWB also moved to a new location downtown, in the former Greater Rochester Visitor Association Inc. building on Andrews Street. The move to the 7,400-square-foot office, from temporary office space at Linden Oaks, occurred in April.
“Our main goal was to establish a stand-alone station,” Robinson said. “We built our own office space and made impressions (in the community) by hiring top salespeople.”
The station’s sales team has been aggressively pursuing media buyers at various agencies to ensure the station is part of a media plan.
“Their sales teams have been active getting into agencies like ours,” Butler said.
The station’s programming mainly focuses on women, teenagers and children. Programs such as “Gilmore Girls” and “Smallville” are popular among its audience.
“They do have a specific target audience; their strength is in the 18-to-34 female demographic,” said Colleen Bogart, media director at Martino Flynn LLC.
Syndicated shows such as “Will & Grace” and “That Seventies Show” will join WRWB’s stable next year.
Having quick access to a local affiliate of a large network has been useful, media buyers said.
“It makes a difference; it gives us another vehicle to analyze and use,” Bogart said. “But they are still very young.”
Focusing on local programming could help the station become easily identifiable to area audiences.
“The task now is to build their product and build their programming,” Butler said. “They need to concentrate on local efforts.”
It has been a difficult year for television stations. The soft economy and the terrorist attacks have forced advertisers to cut back on spending. And for a newcomer like WRWB, it could be challenging to crack the Rochester market.
“What a tough year to try and launch something new and be strong. Now every dollar is important,” Butler said. “Stations are aggressively trying to meet their goals.”
In addition, advertisers are not showing any significant signs of ramping up ad dollars.
“Advertisers are being cautious about media plans in 2002,” Martino Flynn’s Bogart said.
But WRWB plans to continue promotions and programming.
“It takes a lot of patience and a lot of time to change viewers’ habits and to establish your identity,” Robinson said. “We will continue to promote the station.”
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

01/04/02 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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