Market Eye: A Sprint to the Finish Line

With big changes afoot, Kansas City stations cover Dish Network’s attempt to acquire the wireless giant

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Kansas City

New GM Brian Bracco sent a clear message about his priorities at KSHB with a primetime special April 3. The Tragedy on the Plaza went in depth on a story that literally shook up the market: the February explosion and fire at local institution JJ’s Restaurant, stemming from a ruptured gas line, which killed one and injured a dozen. “It’s a real important issue in this market,” says Carrie Hofmann, news director. “We felt there were still things that hadn’t been answered.

KSHB moved NBC’s Chicago Fireto make room for the special. It got a 3.5 household rating/5.4 share— slightly ahead of what KSHB typically does at 9 p.m., Hofmann says.

KSHB’s “Investigators” unit will continue to look into how the tragedy could’ve been avoided. “We hope to continue digging on the story,” Hofmann says. “It’s not over.” —MM

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A new batch of station leaders is changing the dynamic of Kansas City television. By one local player’s count, nine of the 12 top spots (general manager, news director, sales director) at the Big Four stations have turned over in the past 18 to 20 months, an uncommon shakeup for the local TV scene. “We’ve seen a lot of changes recently,” says Sarah Smith, KMBC-KCWE president/GM. “It’ll be interesting to see, as the changes settle down, what the next wave is.”

Smith took over KMBC in the fall of 2011, after Wayne Godsey retired. Darrin McDonald started atop KCTV in December, a return to Kansas City for him. Perhaps most intriguing among the GM shifts was Brian Bracco, longtime Hearst TV news VP, moving to Scripps’ KSHB-KMCI in December to fulfill a career goal of running a station.

Bracco has a new director of sales and news director. The latter, Carrie Hofmann, came from WCNC Charlotte. She’s drilling the newsroom about winning breaking news and weather, and making the “Action News” station more of a player in its investigative reporting.

“I like her vision and I like her style,” Bracco says.

Kansas City is one of the most competitive news markets in the nation. KCTV, Meredith’s CBS affiliate, won the total-day ratings race in February and took primetime in a landslide. Fox affiliate WDAF won the early evening news contest. KMBC, which airs ABC, took mornings and late news—its 7.1 household rating/12 share ahead of KCTV’s 6.5/11. (KMBC put up a 4.3/12 in adults 25-54, ahead of WDAF’s 3.4/10.)

Smith says KMBC thrives on long-standing talent and a yen for community service. “Our people really do believe we’re all public servants and show up every day ready to serve,” she says. “Our pure knowledge of the market and passion to serve is a winning combination.”

Local TV owns WDAF and is exploring a sale of its stations. Cheryl McDonald, president and GM, did not return calls. Hearst TV has a duopoly in KMBC and CW affiliate KCWE. Scripps has independent KMCI in addition to KSHB. Meredith holds the MyNetworkTV station, KSMO; KCTV’s McDonald was general sales manager there before taking on the GM job at KVVU Las Vegas, where he was prior to returning to Kansas City.

Dish-ing on Distribution

The subscription-TV field is wide open and equally competitive. It’s long been a Time Warner Cable market (Kirk Black, a former KCTV GM, is now a GM at the cable giant’s Kansas City operation), but there’s increased pressure from the satellite operators, SureWest, AT&T’s u-Verse and newcomer Google Fiber. Kansas City is a test market for Google Fiber, whose marketing materials say: “A connection speed 100 times faster than today’s broadband. Instant downloads. Crystalclear high-definition TV. And endless possibilities. It’s not cable. And it’s not just Internet. It’s Google Fiber.”

The various distributors are advertising in DMA No. 31. “There’s been dramatic change in the distribution of television,” KCTV’s McDonald says. “It’s extremely competitive here.”

As for distributors, all eyes are on Dish Network, which made a $25.5 billion offer for locally headquartered telecommunications giant Sprint Nextel. Residents are curious if Dish, which gets negative press about its workplace environment, will move the massive K.C. operation (with some 7,500 employees) to its base in Colorado. Perhaps in response, Dish ran ads April 18 in the Kansas City Star, in the form of a cordial letter from chairman Charlie Ergen, reading, in part, “I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself and our company.”

Losing Sprint would be an enormous blow to Kansas City. “Sprint is a huge corporate citizen—they do a lot for the community,” Smith says. “There’s some angst there.”

The stations are hustling to get ahead. In September, KCTV launched the lifestyle show Better Kansas City in the 9 a.m. slot, and is aiming for a summer release for its Dyle mobile-TV product. The station has a new morning team: Dave Hall came from KVVU, and Alexis Del Cid is formerly of KOIN Portland. “We’re seeing serious growth in that daypart,” KCTV’s McDonald says. “We felt they had great chemistry and would be well-received.”

KSHB has a new female anchor in Jadiann Thompson, who comes from KPHO Phoenix, and moved its 4:30 p.m. news up to 4 p.m. in early April, extending it 30 minutes. “We’re excited about adding newscasts and new talent,” Bracco says. “We’re ramping up our news operation.”

WDAF’s Fox4KC.com site has a section dedicated to high school sports that is sponsored by grocery chain Hy-Vee. KMBC-KCWE offers Me-TV and This TV, respectively, on the stations’ dot-two channels.

The local economy isn’t exactly clicking, but the station chiefs are optimistic the worst is over. “The first quarter was not as strong as people anticipated,” Smith says. “But as the year progresses, it’s expected to build.”

The fight for ad dollars in Kansas City is as dogged as it is for ratings points. “It’s an extremely competitive marketplace,” Smith says. “February certainly proved that.”

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