Market Eye: Pacific Northwest Pioneers

Portland local news race heats up as stations go ‘four’ it

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What’s Working in Portland

Portland is getting its national TV close-up this month, as Wheel of Fortune is set in the market for all of May. John Tamerlano, general manager at KATU, says Pat, Vanna and their Wheel crew were in town throughout April and put 20 shows in the can—getting as many as 2,500 spectators out for tapings. “We’ve been on them to come for years,” Tamerlano says.

Portland rolled out the red carpet to entice the Wheel folks, including a meeting with the mayor for the show’s principals and some serious sightseeing. For a city that’s often in the shadow of Seattle and San Francisco, it was a blast of affirmation when the convoy of Wheel production trucks came rolling in. “It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it,” says Tamerlano. “The show got overwhelming support in the market.” —MM

A Pacific Northwest news race that was already tighter than a hipster’s skinny jeans got hotter still after The Oprah Winfrey Show departed from the broadcast arena last year. Portland powerhouse KGW thought long and hard, and tapped reams of research, to figure out how to best fill the yawning gap. DJ Wilson, KGW president and general manager, wanted a show with a “takeaway,” as ‘Oprah’ had—an actionable piece of wisdom doled out each day.

The NBC affiliate opted for an hour-long local newscast targeted to women. Your 4 O’Clock News is a very different animal from the broadcasts it leads into, says Wilson— different writing, different studio at Pioneer Courthouse Square (“our own little Rockefeller Center,” she says), different feel altogether.

“Our DNA is a hard news station,” Wilson says. “If there’s an established news period, we need to be in it.”

No time slot has seen more action of late in DMA No. 22 than 4 p.m. KATU has been in the news game at 4 since 2009, and KOIN jumped in last year. KPTV, however, opted to get out of the news race, slotting Judge Judy at 4 and introducing a newscast at 6. “We spend a lot of time analyzing it, and decided to zag when everyone else zigged,” says Patrick McCreery, KPTV VP/general manager. “Now we probably look more like a traditional affiliate than other Fox af! liates.”

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The first station in the market to air news at 4 p.m., ABC affiliate KATU, won the ratings race in the February sweeps with a 3.3 household rating/8.7 share, ahead of KGW’s 2.5/6.8. (KATU won the 25-54 demo race by a tenth of a ratings point.) John Tamerlano, senior VP/ GM at KATU, says the hot competition exists throughout the day. Late news is a “dog! ght,” he says. “On any given night, anyone and everyone can be within a tenth of a point of No. 1. It depends on lead-in, and who grew their share of lead-in,” Tamerlano says.

KOIN, a CBS affiliate being acquired by LIN Broadcasting in its acquisition of New Vision Television’s stations, won primetime in February. Meredith’s KPTV took an extremely close 6 a.m. households race, with KGW winning adults 25-54. Belo’s KGW won total day, early evening and late news—the latter with a 4/10.5 in households, ahead of KOIN’s 3.8/10.1.

Other players include Tribune’s CW affiliate KRCW, which is managed by its sister Seattle station. Fisher owns KATU and Univision affiliate KUNP. Meredith has MyNetworkTV affiliate KPDX, which airs local news at 8 p.m. Comcast is Portland’s main cable operator.

Portland is a destination for the creative class, whose hipster ways are satirized on the IFC sketch comedy show, Portlandia. (It’s a place you go to retire at 35, as the local saying goes.) Start-ups abound, but the market sorely lacks Fortune 500 companies other than Nike—a factor in Portland being rated the No. 32 revenue market by BIA/Kelsey.

“It’s a challenging economic environment,” says Wilson. “The market doesn’t create a lot of wealth. We have some of the most stunning beaches, but it doesn’t pay your mortgage.”

Portland stations are pushing for an edge. McCreery says the Meredith pair has focused on community partnerships, such as with the local Major League Soccer team, to give itself a stronger presence in the market’s urban center. “We needed a deeper connection, and we’ve achieved that,” he says. “We’re seeing the results now.”

KGW will drop the syndicated Anderson this fall in favor of Katie. KATU borrowed the “Add One Job” initiative from VP/GM Larry Delia at WXIN Indianapolis, and has compelled local businesses to create some 150 jobs this spring.

The competition and new arrivals keep Portland stations hustling. “Our attitude is, we’re in sweeps every day,” Tamerlano says.

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone