Market Eye: Political Preview

Presidential hopefuls descend on Iowa (DMA #72)

Just as the Des Moines-Ames area has hit economic rebound mode, Mother Nature is attempting to spoil the party. The market has been anxiously eyeing the escalating levels of the Des Moines River after what one station executive calls a “pretty hellacious winter,” resulting in significant snow melt and a perilously wet March.

Threatened levees are a big story in DMA No. 72. News leader KCCI is keeping viewers informed from its newsroom located safely up on a hill, with a backup generator at the ready. “We should be in good shape,” says News Director Dave Busiek.

The Hearst station had a blockbuster November sweeps, winning all the major races. The CBS affi liate’s 18.0 household rating/ 38 share easily topped Local TV-owned WHO’s 10.0 rating/21 share in late news, but the morning race was extremely close. (A diary market, Des Moines will receive February sweeps results in early April.)

NBC affiliate WHO has an ace up its sleeve: full local high-definition programming, which VP/General Manager Dale Woods says should be fully operational this spring. “The equipment is here—right now we’re in training and rehearsals,” he says. “We’ll be the first in the state to take our entire operation HD.”

Rounding out the market are Sinclair’s Fox affiliate KDSM, Citadel Communications’ ABC outlet WOI and Pappas’ This TV-CW duopoly KDMI/ KCWI. WHO produces KDSM’s 9 p.m. news, while WOI airs RTV programming on its digital channel. Des Moines is also home to Meredith Corp., along with numerous insurance, banking and agricultural entities.

The market held up relatively well during the recession, with business off a modest 5%, by some estimates, in 2009. An active political season, including governor and senate races, will boost 2010 coffers. “Political will only accentuate the positive momentum we are seeing,” says WOI General Manager Ray Cole.

Iowa is, of course, home to the caucuses, and possible Republican presidential candidates such as Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty are already showing their faces and meeting with community groups to muster support. “They’re trying hard to make it look like they’re not campaigning,” Busiek says. “But they certainly hope to be seen.”

KCCI is deploying Hearst’s Next Generation News initiative, which allows reporters to publish stories and video directly to the Web from out in the field, to cover both the candidates and the flood waters. “We’re just getting started with it, but it gives us all kinds of flexibility in the field,” Busiek says.

Woods, meanwhile, hopes that WHO’s HD adoption will push the station to the top of the Des Moines heap. “We’re trying to take the Hearst station down,” he says. “We’re knocking on that door, and HD is something people can rally around.”