Bay Area Boost

Politics and a tech turnaround feed fierce competition
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The fortunes of Bay Area TV stations are getting a lift from the Terminator in this campaign year. Thanks to campaign- and issue-related spending by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his opponents in the gubernatorial election, millions of dollars are pouring in—and across the schedule, not just in local-news programming.

“It reminds everyone that local stations are a terrific way to reach people,” says Tim McVay, general manager for Cox’s Fox affiliate KTVU.

The political boon comes as the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose market, Nielsen’s sixth-largest, is also rebounding. Ron Longinotti, general manager of CBS-owned KPIX and KHBK (the market’s future CW outlet), says that “underlying economic conditions are healthier, thanks to strong housing prices and a resurgent technology sector.”

However, the market is still off from its peak. Last year, stations took in $613.6 million in gross revenues, according to BIA Financial—good enough to rank No. 6 but dramatically lower than 2000, when stations raked in nearly $800 million.

The Bay Area is one of the most complex local-TV scenes in the country, with more than 12 commercial stations competing for viewers who consume less TV than the national average, according to station research. In addition to long commutes and outdoor attractions, stations compete with 73% cable penetration and cater to a diverse market with large Hispanic and Asian-American populations.

That makes competition fierce. No one station dominates in news. Cox’s Fox affiliate KTVU wins early mornings, while ABC-owned KGO leads in early evenings and KPIX claims late news. The race stacks up similarly in the key 25-54 demographic. “A half a rating point separates us all at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.,” says Linda Sullivan, general manager of NBC-owned KNTV.

On June 26, KGO will debut The View From the Bay, a female-targeted local infotainment show to fill the 3 p.m. hole left by the cancelled Tony Danza Show. “A lot of syndication is targeted to the middle of the country and doesn’t have high appeal here,” says KGO General Manager Valari Staab. “We felt we’d do better with Bay Area-centric material.”

KGO produces a morning Webcast, and KTVU offers audio podcasts of interviews, but KNTV leads local efforts to reach tech-savvy viewers online with hourly daytime newscasts, podcasts and original programs, such as pre- and post-game shows for the NHL’s San Jose Sharks playoff games.

On KPIX’s Website, users can assemble a virtual newscast with video clips from the Watercooler section, where they’ll find such offbeat items as “98-Year-Old Graduates High School.”

Next: Nashville

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