Market Eye: Seattle Still Working Off Its Super Hangover

Bustling local scene sees big stories, no interceptions

The Seattle economy is rocking. The “crane count” that two TV station chiefs cited—the number of construction cranes one sees while looking out the window—is sky-high. The top tech firms are here, and Starbucks keeps everyone good and wired.

So why the long faces, Seattle? “The town still has a bit of a Seahawks hangover,” says Jim Rose, VP/station manager at KING-KONG. “We’re still getting over the Super Bowl and the way it finished.”

Indeed, the beloved Seahawks lost the big one on an inexplicable interception on the New England Patriots’ 1-yard-line in the waning seconds of the game.

The Super Bowl was yet another major story for TV newsrooms that spent 2014 in a sprint. There was the mudslide that killed dozens last March, a news helicopter crash that killed two the same month and wildfires in the summer. Rose calls it his busiest news year in 15 years spent in Seattle. “It was 5-7 years’ worth of news last year,” he says.

The stations in DMA No. 14 are well-equipped to cover the big ones. Gannett has KING-KONG, an NBC-independent pair. Sinclair has ABC affiliate KOMO, Univision outlet KUNS and several radio stations. Cox Media Group owns CBS affiliate KIRO. All three are dogged competitors, but it’s the established KING brand that held the upper hand in the February sweeps. The station won total-day household ratings handily, along with morning and evening news. Primetime winner KIRO was the top household player at 11 p.m., its 3.9 rating/11 share a bit better than KING’s 3.7/10, though KING was tops in adults 25-54. Tribune’s Fox affiliate KCPQ thwarted KONG at 10.

Tribune also owns MyNetworkTV affiliate KZJO, while CBS holds CW-aligned KSTW. The latter is enjoying The CW’s surging primetime, supplemented with off-network fare including Mike and Molly and the original series Band in Seattle. “Seattle is a huge band mecca,” says Mark Boe, citing Nirvana and Pearl Jam. “We thought [Band in Seattle] would be a good idea to help localize the station.”

Comcast is the market’s main subscription TV operator.

Fox acquired independent KBCB last fall when it was sparring with Tribune for the Fox affiliation, which ended with Tribune extending its agreement. Michael Dell’s OTA Broadcasting has Me-TV station KVOS and independent KFFV. OTA is believed to be a spectrum play, but CEO Carol LaFever says: “We fully expect to be in business for a long time to come.”

KING, which is set to move into a new facility later this year, thrives on a decorated investigative team and tireless community outreach. “The things we do from a community standpoint are what I think separates us,” says Rose.

But KING’s got a fight on its hands. KOMO, for one, aims to lure in users all day long, whether it’s on TV, radio or smartphones (it debuted the one-minute “Quickie” on Facebook last month). “We are a truly seamless news organization,” Janene Drafs, Sinclair’s Seattle VP/GM, told B&C earlier this year.

The stations are already thinking about the Seahawks’ ’15-‘16 campaign. “We’re banking on the fact,” says Rose, “that the team will be in the Super Bowl next year.”

KCPQ IN BEAST MODE

Thanks to a dogged local news approach and the market’s rabid affection for the Seattle Seahawks, KCPQ is in the thick of the revenue race. When Pam Pearson, VP and general manager, arrived in town 15 years ago, KCPQ had a 10 p.m. nightly news, and that was it. “Q13” now has a monster 4:30-10 a.m. news. The station added 4 and 5 p.m. newscasts a few years back and, when The Arsenio Hall Show departed last year, launched an 11 p.m. news up against the traditional Big Three. Pearson does not pay much attention to household ratings, but KCPQ newscasts’ 0.9 rating/4 share in adults 25-54 in February was within a point of leader KING. “There’s been a great resurgence of all our news,” she says. (Sister KZJO also features a 9 p.m. news.)

Seahawks games averaged a regular-season 42.3 household rating/74 share on KCPQ last year. “It’s a pretty incredible story,” says Pearson.