Newly launched WBIN-TV hopes to take a bite out of WMUR's market
Though barely a few months old, New Hampshire's newest television station is making some big moves to carve itself a spot in the state's media landscape.WBIN-TV, the station recently launched by (and named for) former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Binnie, has recruited executives from local stations, launched its own nightly news program, and will co-sponsor the Oct. 11 Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College.Along with his Carlisle One Media Inc., Binnie also has purchased several low-power stations around New Hampshire, ensuring a greater coverage area, and is considering a move into radio. In other words, Bill Binnie is trying to build a media empire -- and he just might succeed."Binnie is an extraordinarily capable and smart business guy," said Gary O'Neil, principal at 02 Creative Energy in Manchester and a longtime New Hampshire advertising executive. "Anybody who underestimates him is doing it at a great risk."What remains to be seen is what this media power play will mean for WMUR, the ABC affiliate that has long been the major television station in New Hampshire.For its part, WMUR has just rolled out its own subchannel -- dubbed MeTV -- that, along with its primary channel, will likely find itself vying for some of the same viewers and advertising dollars as WBIN.Binnie says it's "extraordinary" that a market the size of New Hampshire has only one full-power station."We see a real opportunity for another important media voice in New Hampshire," said Binnie. "In spite of the fact that there is a great deal of media nationwide, countrywide and even in Boston, there are very few voices here in New Hampshire and we intend to be one of them."'Something bigger'News of Binnie's impending media run surfaced late last year, when reports broke of his purchase of several low-power stations and transmitters throughout the Granite State. Broadcasting news site RBR.com reported that with his acquisition of low-power stations in key areas of the state, Binnie seemed to be "cobbling together pieces of signals to likely make something bigger.""The coverage is pretty impressive," the report said. "Between W39AR, W33AK and W28CM, WVBK, WVBQ and WYCN, the combined coverage is over 90 percent of the New Hampshire population."The "something bigger" became clear when news broke that Binnie was in talks to purchase WZMY, the Derry station is part of the Boston market, the seventh-largest market in the country.Before it was WZMY, it was WNDS, or the station that made meteorologist Al Kaprielian a household name in New Hampshire.The sale of WZMY was finalized in May for $9.25 million -- a third of the $28 million Diana Sutter had paid for the channel in 2004."The media has shifted so much, the price of entry is good," said O'Neil. "It makes all the sense for the guy to get in there."The purchase secured Carlisle One Media a coverage area that extends throughout most of New Hampshire and deep into Massachusetts, all the way to the tip of Cape Cod. Binnie now believes WBIN is geographically the largest TV station in the Boston market, which encompasses 2.4 million households."We have six million people potentially watching our broadcast every night," said Binnie."His strategy of getting in between WMUR and Boston is a good one, because if you look at growth areas and growth patterns, it's southern New Hampshire and Middlesex and Essex counties in Massachusetts," said O'Neil. "That's a huge population with a really good income."So far his media ambitions aren't limited just to television. "We are looking and have been offered various radio properties in the marketplace," said Binnie, a Portsmouth businessman who made his fortune selling his company, Carlisle Plastics Inc., which made coat hangers, trash bags and plastic sheeting.Since taking over, the former senate candidate has implemented more than a few changes to the station, including a complete studio overhaul and recruitment that brought on board Gerry McGavick from WMUR, Al Turner from ESPN and Lee Kinberg from CBS.He's also dropped the station's affiliation with Fox-owned MyNetworkTV, a move that lets it boast of being the only locally owned and operated independent TV station in the market."We think we've been able to do an enormous amount in a relatively short period of time here," said Binnie. "We have tripled the number of people working at the station, our sales are up 5 percent a month, we have come out with a new news product which we intend to expand and we are in active discussion internally among our management team to add and develop more programming."WBIN's fall programming lineup is nearly all syndicated shows -- ratings grabbers like "Law and Order," "The Simpsons," "The Office" and "Cash Cab," among others.But on Sept. 29, it debuted its first news program, a half-hour weeknight block co-anchored by Martin Lawrence and Amanda Decker at 10 p.m. To deliver that news show, it's partnered with The Boston Globe, CNN, the Independent News Network and Bloomberg News."We love the relationships we have been able to develop with our partners," said Binnie. "We're working very hard to make it relevant to the residents of Massachusetts and New Hampshire."Binnie said station officials also are in the process of developing more news programming as well as locally produced shows, but he wouldn't divulge specifics."We anticipate local sports as well as local programming as well as local political shows in the coming months and into next year," said Binnie. He wouldn't say how many reporters the station employs, except to say that they have "a full news staff."As for WBIN's news programming, WMUR is keeping mum."I don't have much comment on WBIN at this point. We don't know who they have working there," said WMUR spokesman and creative services director Alex Jasiukowicz.Growth marketBut Jasiukowicz did talk about WMUR's new subchannel, MeTV New Hampshire, found on Comcast channel 298. The addition of the subchannel was a function of the switch from analog to digital TV, which allows stations an allotment of bandwidth to be divided however they so choose.MeTV premiered Oct. 3, less than a week after WBIN's news debut."We have chosen to maintain a great quality HD stream with the ABC and Global News programming," he said, "and we still have enough bandwidth left over to produce this MeTV."MeTV's lineup includes classic shows from the 1950s through the '80s, such as "M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "I Love Lucy," "The Twilight Zone," "The Brady Bunch" and others.WMUR may also use it in the future to broadcast more local programming, "whether it's a daily local program or a one-time event," like a UNH hockey game that conflicts with the season finale of a popular show like "Dancing with the Stars," he said.While Binnie said his station is "certainly not targeting any one competitor," O'Neil predicted "there will be some sort of duking it out" between WMUR and WBIN.But that doesn't necessarily mean the two stations should pit themselves against one another, he said."(WBIN's) marketing budget should adjust accordingly. They shouldn't get in the game by taking on Channel 9," O'Neil said. "Neither one will do well if they try to poach each other's business. The growth market is really where it's at."If WBIN really wants to succeed, it needs to focus on new media -- developing news in the field that is tailored for instant consumption via smartphone, said O'Neil, who thinks that's where Binnie is going with the station.After all, the audience is there, he said: Just look at WMUR's website. According to Alexa, which ranks website traffic, WMUR.com gets more traffic than nearly any other site in New Hampshire, easily beating out the websites of the state of New Hampshire, the Union Leader, and every other newspaper in the state. "The person that can grab some of that audience is definitely going to have a share of the market."But, he warned: "The hardest trick of all is to make something new part of someone's everyday life."Whether WBIN will become a major player in New Hampshire media remains to be seen, but perhaps its slogan is more than a bit prescient: "Watch and see..."