One thing about TV people… they love numbers: May ratings were up .5 at 6pm in the P25-54 demo. We’re number 2 at 6am, but just .1 behind station X. Year 2 of my contract begins in 2 months and I’m getting a 3% raise. I can’t believe my co-anchor makes $3,000 more than I do (yes, news directors, everybody knows what everybody else makes… they all talk). And oh, I want to make at least a 25-market jump in my next move.
And there it is—the TV market number obsession. For people who aren’t very good at math (let’s face it… you didn’t go into TV to solve advanced engineering math problems), we sure do know those Nielsen DMA numbers pretty well! Here’s the list, by the way:
Of course, everyone in TV news wants to advance their career, make more money and have more viewers see their work. But as you climb the media ladder, ask yourself this question: does market size matter? While the answer may be “yes” most of the time, you’d be surprised how many veteran broadcasting people would answer “no.” We’ll take a look at why in a minute. We’ll also look at how quickly you can move up if that’s your goal, and what’s a reasonable market jump.
First, it all depends on where you are in your career. If you’re coming right out of college into your first jobs, chances are you’re going to start in a very small market making an equally small salary. And that’s ok. Your foot is in the door. But it also depends on what job you’re looking for. Talent jobs are tougher than producing or AP jobs. We have students graduating from Penn State (disclosure: I teach here at PSU and I’m the Director of Student Television) who are quickly getting reporting or anchoring jobs in places like Elmira NY (market 175), Binghamton NY (market 159), Bangor Maine (market 156), Altoona/Johnstown PA (market 104) and Plattsburgh NY (market 98). But we also have new grads getting off-air jobs at ABC network in NYC, ESPN and Miami (market 16). There’s a huge need for producers, so if you go that route, your chances of starting in a bigger market and moving up faster are better. Bottom line is this: if your dream is to be on-air, then go be on air! It doesn’t matter where you start. You’ll only be there a year or two, you’ll gain valuable experience, learn, grow, and then move on to a bigger market. Don’t turn your back on Eureka (market 195), Twin Falls (market 192) or Bend (market 193). Those are great places to start and yes, make mistakes. You’d rather make a mistake there than in a top 50 market where it’s a LOT more visible.
How quickly can you move up to larger markets? These days, VERY quickly. Back when I started in TV 30 years ago, you did your time in a small market, then after a few years, moved up to a slightly larger market, spent a few more years there, and then moved again. That was before FOX stations added a fourth affiliate in many markets, before regional cable TV news operations and other new media outlets were around. There’s so much more opportunity now that places are always hiring, and that’s good for you.
What are good market jumps these days? You name it! Just in the past month I’ve seen reporters/anchors making moves like these: Bangor Maine (156) to Greensboro NC (46),
Elmira NY (175) to Buffalo (52), Altoona (104) to Buffalo (52) and someone in a 150+ market going to Charlotte (24). These are major moves in some cases of more than 100 markets. Just be sure if you’re making big jumps, you’re seeing the money to go along with the move. Negotiate a good deal yourself or get help from an agent to advocate for you. As you move into larger, top 20 markets, there are other benefits you should be asking for too. Those stations are big enough to help you with significant moving expenses, and if you’re an anchor, a decent clothing allowance. But above all else, make sure you’re ready for the move from an experience standpoint. You don’t want to be in over your head in a major market—the stakes are far too high for you and your boss.
Some people have resumes that show a quick and steady progression to larger markets every few years. And that’s fine—if that’s your goal, go for it. But for others, it’s not all about the market size… it’s also about lifestyle. You want to LIKE where you live and work. Detroit is market 12, but it’s not for everybody. LA is market 2 but some people have no desire to live in the crowded sprawl of Southern California. My personal path in my career is one of moving to larger markets but also places I LOVED living. I really enjoyed Providence RI (New England Summers are great), then spent years in Tampa (awesome beaches on the Gulf coast and my two kids were born there!). Sacramento was great (sunny and dry weather and hey, an hour from Napa Valley!). And Seattle was fantastic… a stunning and beautiful place. I don’t have any regrets about the places I’ve lived, because I chose wisely—good TV markets that are also good places to live.
Be sure you do the same. My best advice is that it doesn’t really matter where you start. Just get that experience on your resume and grow as a producer, reporter, anchor, director or whatever you do. Then make smart and careful choices as you move up the market ladder. Big TV markets are great—the news quality is better and you’ll make more money and have more station resources. But remember, there are bigger hassles too. More people micro-managing your work, lots more ratings and performance pressure, big city traffic and a higher cost of living. That’s why some people find a place they love and they stay there. Some of those middle markets can be great places to settle down for years. The news quality is good, you make decent money and you can live comfortably if you’re in the right job.
There are plenty of opportunities in TV and you can make bigger market jumps than ever. Just think before you jump!
Steve Kraycik is a Talent Agent with MediaStars. He has 29 years of TV news experience and spent a decade as a news director in top 20 markets. He’s also the Dir. Of Student Television at Penn State University. You can follow him on Twitter @TV_Agent_Steve.