Battle of the Bay

Big Three challenge KTVU for king of San Fran hill
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KTVU has held the top revenue spot in the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market for years, but its deep-pocketed rivals are creeping up on the Fox affiliate. KTVU owns mornings, but ABC-owned KGO dominates in the evening, and CBS-owned KPIX is emerging in late news. All are putting their best foot forward for the 2008 election, and station managers say the first ad requests are already trickling in.

“The market's going to have a great 2008,” says KRON President/General Manager Mark Antonitis. “All I can say is, God, I love this country.”

San Francisco hit well-documented hard times after the technology bubble burst. But station managers say a more diverse tech landscape, include environmental technology and biotech, has given the economy stronger footing. Other drivers are banking and tourism—with its dramatic hills and iconic Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco pulled in 15.8 million visitors in 2006, spending some $7.76 billion.

The market is home to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (Balco) and home run champ Barry Bonds, so Major League Baseball's steroids report was huge news here when it was released earlier this month. Bonds remains a heroic local figure. “We get phone calls all the time, people telling us we're too hard on Barry,” says KGO President/General Manager Valari Staab.

The nation's No. 6 DMA is poised to pull in $686.6 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial. Cox's KTVU led the pack in 2006 with $133.7 million, ahead of NBC O&O KNTV ($116.8 million), KGO ($105 million) and CBS-owned KPIX ($100.5 million). The DMA also features an array of smaller stations, including a CBS-owned CW outlet, NBC's Telemundo station, Granite's independent KBWB and Young Broadcasting's MyNetworkTV affiliate KRON, the latter the subject of constant sale rumors.

As befits a tech-savvy market, the stations innovate online. KGO streams The View From the Bay, hosted by former Good Morning America meteorologist Spencer Christian, and recently re-launched its Website featuring a large video player in the middle of the screen that Staab says looks and feels more like a television site than other station Websites.

KNTV debuted NBC11Hometown.com, which invites the public to share hyper-local issues such as pernicious potholes, in the fall. KNTV's Moving Pictures feature taps local persons of interest, such as a caretaker at a military cemetery, to take photos and offer perspective from their corner of the Bay Area. “They're surprisingly educational and surprisingly entertaining,” says Creative Services VP Jim Monroe.

KPIX has bolstered its evening newscasts with a court block from 3 to 5 p.m, and after topping KGO at 11 p.m. by one-tenth of a ratings point, seeks to continue growing. “We've got some momentum,” says President/General Manager Ron Longinotti. “I'm not going to make predictions, but I think [KGO] is taking us seriously.”

KTVU, meanwhile, which won late news in November from its 10 p.m. slot, is adding a 7 p.m. news show on independent sister KICU in mid-January. VP/General Manager Tim McVay credits a driven sales department with the Cox duopoly's eminence. “There's no real secret, just a focus on the customer, and making sure we're out there meeting our clients' needs,” he says.

Managers say there are few better places to live and work. “The weather's always good,” says Staab, “and the lifestyle here is hard, hard, hard to beat.”

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