Vegas NBC Affiliate StacksChips on Local

“I don’t take any great pride in running someone else’s program,” says KSNV owner Rogers

mmalone@nbmedia.com | @BCMikeMalone

While September always spells change on a TV station’s schedule, perhaps no station in the nation has a more drastic upheaval in the works than KSNV Las Vegas. The station is continuing to make the break from syndication staples, including Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! this fall, filling the holes by doubling down on local fare: Vegas news, Vegas public affairs, Vegas talk.

Why This Matters
Stations nationwide are weighing the benefits of adding local programming at the expense of costly, but well-rated, syndicated shows.

It is a paradigm-exploding strategy, but as Las Vegas continues to grow, Lisa Howfield, KSNV VP/general manager—and the daughter of a Vegas cocktail waitress and a blackjack dealer— believes the NBC affiliate is on the right path. “TV stations have had the same business model forever,” she says. “The way we’re doing it—really heavying up on our local presence—is what we believe we have to do to thrive in the future.”

KSNV hits the fall with Rachael Ray, The Doctors and Dr. Phil in syndication, and says farewell to Phil next fall. It’s not hard to imagine a day when KSNV is syndication-free, and Jim Rogers, KSNV owner, hopes it happens in his lifetime. “I don’t take any great pride in running someone else’s programming,” he says. “The only thing we can do that everyone else can’t do is local news. Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! are everywhere.”

TV and Philanthropy

Rogers, whose Intermountain West also owns KRNV Reno and KENV Elko (Nev.) is a unique owner. At 74, he’s a celebrated philanthropist and a dogged defender of the First Amendment. He’s also a seller of TV stations; in recent months, he’s agreed to sell KYMA Yuma (Ariz.) and Idaho’s KPVI Pocatello and KXTF Twin Falls. Independent owners have been gobbled up of late, but Rogers insists he has no plans in the near term to sell his remaining stations. “Where would I go?” he quips. “What would I do all day?”

A proud son of Las Vegas, Rogers’ jokes belie a fierce determination to cover the ever-shifting market. As recently as 2005, Vegas was DMA No. 51. Despite a brutal spell of home foreclosures and unemployment since then, it’s now No. 40—and a stunning No. 27 in revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey. “I would’ve liked to have [scrapped syndication] 20 years ago, but the volume of interesting news in Nevada—especially Las Vegas—was not there,” he says. “I want to have some impact on my community.”

KSNV also parted ways with Nielsen last fall, citing high cost and low sample size, leaving some to wonder if cost cutting is driving the moves. Rogers vehemently denies this, while Howfield says Rentrak has been a worthy ratings substitute. “They’ve done a great job meeting with the agencies and familiarizing them with [Rentrak’s] product,” she says. “It hasn’t created an issue for us.”

Wheel and Jeopardy! slide over to leader KLAS.

KSNV is hardly the only station replacing costly syndication shows with homegrown fare. A year ago, Scripps made a splash by replacing Wheel and Jeopardy! in several markets with a homegrown game show and a newsmagazine. Last month, Dave Lougee, president of Gannett Broadcasting, acknowledged that the expanding group is developing shows for multiple dayparts. While they inevitably post lower ratings than established syndicated shows, locally produced programming means full ad inventory for the stations. The extra avails come in handy when the political spending hits.

Laura Clark, senior VP at Frank N. Magid Associates, says the challenges for KSNV are keeping programming high quality amidst the expansion, and getting viewers accustomed to watching news in non-typical time slots. “I think this is something that everyone is trying to do,” she says. “They’re just not necessarily doing it on this scale.”

Staffing Up in Vegas

KSNV has added around 15 employees and has built a second set and master control room. The station offers Wake Up With the Wagners, the anchors a married couple, from 4:30-7 a.m., noon news, a 12:30 political talk show and local news from 4 to 6 p.m. NBC’s Nightly News leads into the public affairs show Ralston Reports at 6:30, before more local news at 7 p.m.

“News 3” staffers are up for the new challenges, believes Howfield. “The feeling around the station is strong—there’s a lot of positive energy,” she says. “I think people are on board with the plan.”

Every local broadcast peer she speaks with has something of an extreme reaction to the strategy. “They say, ‘You’re crazy, it’s risky, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ or they say, ‘More power to you—that’s what local television is all about,’” Howfield says. “It’s one or the other—no one is in-between.”