Market Eye: Meet Me (Early) in St. Louis

News powers up and at ‘em along the river; Fox is live 4-10 a.m.

The day starts early for the news stations in ultra-competitive St. Louis. Still in many ways a shift-work town, the market will get a third 4 a.m. news entrant this fall when KMOV joins KTVI and KSDK in that time slot. Mike Murphy, new KMOV VP/general manager, says it’s a logical move for a number of reasons, including the fact that KMOV is on channel 4. “4 at 4—there are great promotional opportunities there,” he says.

Fours are wild for KMOV—the CBS affiliate is also launching a 4 p.m. news in the fall. Meredith closed on the station, a former Belo outlet before Gannett acquired that group—in February. Murphy came on board in March, moving up from WBMA-WCFT Birmingham (Ala.).

0701_MarketEye_Chart.jpgIt’s an interesting competitive landscape along the Mississippi River, with a traditional power in NBC affiliate KSDK. But the emergence of Tribune’s KTVI-KPLR, a Fox-CW pair, has shaken up the pecking order. The Trib duo cranks out the news—over 60 hours a week on KTVI, more than double the nearest competitor, and 17 more hours on KPLR. Five years ago, it was a combined 49 hours a week, says Spencer Koch, VP and general manager. “Primetime is getting more and more challenging,” he says. “You have to control your destiny a little by producing your own content.”

Four times a year, the Trib news crew ventures to one of St. Louis’ many unique neighborhoods for a close-up; in May 2014 the spotlight came to Ferguson, which made national headlines for racial unrest last summer. “We showed another side of Ferguson,” says Koch.

KTVI won total-day ratings in adults 25-54 in the May sweeps, while KMOV as tops in households. Demo-focused KTVI won mornings; it, KSKD and KMOV could all claim an early evening title, between the 5 and 6 p.m. races and households and 25-54 contests. KMOV’s 8.9 HH rating/15 share topped KSDK’s 7.8/13 at 10 p.m.; KMOV also took the late news demo race, along with primetime.

Murphy speaks of increasing KMOV’s community presence and is bullish on a new station initiative called End Violence STL, which involves community town halls as well as on-air segments designed to reduce hurt and harm in DMA No. 21. “We’re trying to help the market realize that it’s not an issue for one community—it’s everyone’s issue,” Murphy says. The campaign, a partnership with local outreach organization Better Family Life, started July 4.

KTVI-KPLR also tackles community issues, including a Sunday-morning current affairs show called Post Scripts that is a partnership with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and a left wing-right wing debate program called Hancock & Kelley.

KSDK is pushing hard on its web and mobile strategy and gets big ratings with specials, such as recent programs focusing on onetime St. Louis sportscaster Bob Costas and the local GM plant.

Other players in the market include Sinclair’s ABC affiliate, KDNL. Brian Brady’s Cedar Creek Broadcasting acquired WRBU WZRB Columbia (S.C.) for $6 million earlier this year; WRBU, the former MyNetworkTV affiliate, is aligned with Ion. Charter is the primary subscription TV operator.

Station general managers say the market is moving forward. “Ferguson was an important story,” says Marv Danielski, KSDK president/GM. “But it doesn’t define what St. Louis is becoming.”

COMING, GOING, GROWING

KTVI anchor Tom O’Neal signed off July 3 after 43 years in the business. O’Neal started at KTVI in 1990. Vic Faust, formerly of WXYZ Detroit, is now doing the 5 and 9 p.m. news. Rafer Weigel, anchoring the 6 and 10 p.m., joined in last fall from WLS Chicago. Weigel is the son of late Chicago sportscaster Tim Weigel.

Sister KPLR was the home of local sports before that went mostly to cable; the CW station now has news at noon, 4 and 7 p.m. Regarding an expansion, Spencer Koch, KTVI-KPLR GM, says, “there’s always room.”

Speaking of sports, the recent story about a Cardinals employee illegally accessing another ballclub’s private information is not a big an issue locally, says Mike Murphy, KMOV GM. “You don’t hear people talk about it now,” he says, “unless they’re from out of town.”

Across town, Lynn Beall, longtime KSDK GM, was upped to executive VP of Gannett last year; Marv Danielski took over her GM spot.