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

Click here to read more Market Eye articles

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 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
and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone