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July 10, 2013

Media Note: WCAX Expanding News Programming to Weekend Mornings


Citing demand for more local news programming, WCAX-TV announced Wednesday it's expanding its coverage to Saturday and Sunday mornings. Starting September 7, the station will air an hour of local news at 8 a.m. both days.

"The public has asked us to do it," says WCAX news director Anson Tebbetts. "News is, as you know, seven days a week."

The station will be the first in the Burlington-Plattsburgh television market to offer locally produced programing weekend mornings, which WCAX owner Peter Martin says are growing more and more essential.

"Morning news — not just here, but around the country — has become almost a center of gravity. People want it and watch it in surprisingly large numbers," Martin says. "There is a set of advertisers — for instance, automobile companies — who are anxious to reach people who watch news."

The move is also the first local broadcast news expansion in Vermont since September 2010, when WCAX added a 5 p.m. weekday newscast and a 5:30 p.m. interview show. The station's primary competitor, WPTZ-TV, began airing a 5 p.m. show in 2002 and a 5:30 p.m. show in 2005.

"We're going to wish them well," WPTZ news director Sinan Sadar said. "More news is better for everybody."

Neither Tebbetts nor Martin would say precisely how many new hires the station would make to staff the shows, though Martin said, "There will be at least several." Tebbetts said some existing on-air staff might also shift to the weekend time slots.

While print media has suffered in recent years from dwindling advertising revenue and circulation, local television stations have been doing quite well. According to the New York Times' Brian Stelter and Christine Haughney, that's partly due to a rapid growth in fees cable and satellite companies pay to carry the stations: Those are expected to grow industry-wide from $3 billion this year to $5 billion by 2016. Local stations have also benefited from an explosion in spending on political advertising.

In the past two months alone, two major national newspaper companies have swept up a number of local television stations. In June, the Gannett Company, which owns the Burlington Free Press, paid $1.5 billion to buy the Belo Corporation, which owns 20 stations. And last week, the Tribune Company agreed to pay $2.7 billion for 19 local stations. 

According to Martin, the independently owned WCAX is "doing okay, doing fine, year-to-date so far," though he said consolidation within the broadcast television industry was a challenge. Political spending in New Hampshire, a swing-state, and New York has been a boon, he says.

"It can be quite big. It all depends on sort of what the state of political play is," he says. "And then of course there's been issue advertising, super PACs and all that."

Photo of Tebbetts announcing WCAX's news expansion courtesy of Kristin Kelly.

Disclosure: WCAX and Seven Days are media partners.

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