California Streamin'

Stations in No. 1 revenue market invest in digital
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With more than a dozen stations clamoring for viewers, station managers in the nation's largest revenue market are racing to innovate with high-definition news, interactive programming and unique content on buses, among other cutting-edge takes on TV.

ABC-Disney flagship KABC has ample reason to celebrate after a memorable February sweeps. Thanks to the network's strong primetime, recent gains for World News With Charles Gibson, and top syndicated shows Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and The Oprah Winfrey Show, KABC won in total day and morning, evening and late news.

It's about consistency, says KABC VP of Programming, Advertising and Promotions Therese Gamba: “It's not so much what's changed but what has stayed the same. Viewers know what they get from us.”

The region took in an estimated $1.8 billion in 2006, according to BIA Financial, up from $1.6 billion the year before. KNBC led the pack in 2005 (the most recent numbers available), grabbing $272 million in revenues. But Fox's owned-and-operated KTTV was close behind with $264.2 million, followed by KABC ($223.5 million) and KCBS ($173.8 million).

And with an estimated 42% (and growing) Hispanic population, Spanish-language stations do exceptionally well. Univision affiliate KMEX brought in $136 million in 2005 and trailed only KABC in total-day ratings. NBC's Telemundo affiliates KVEA and KWHY also do solid numbers.

Telecommunications and fast food are strong advertising segments, and automotive appears to be rebounding as well. And should California finalize plans to move its presidential primary up a month in 2008, giving it greater significance to candidates, stations will reap considerable revenues from political ads.

KABC, the first in the market to do news in high-definition, is among those stations trotting out new products, with a new million-watt radar system for weather. KNBC offers original video on city buses and gas pumps through Transit TV, and last summer, the station began offering digital-channel and Web viewers “News Raw,” a behind-the-scenes look at newsgathering. “There's been a great, great response from viewers who love unfiltered content,” says Senior VP/Station Manager Mike McCarthy.

KCBS and sister station KCAL move into a new facility later this month and offer HD news next month. “We've got the most watched newscast [on KCBS at 11],” says Don Corsini, president/general manager of the CBS duopoly. “And KCAL's 4 p.m. news is up about 100%.”

Managers are also tapping viewers to augment programming. KNBC solicits viewers' opinions for broadcast/Web program Your LA TV and will expand interactive game show The Challenge from a half-hour to an hour this fall. KTTV, which won primetime ratings, has asked school principals to supply test questions for a Web program tied to Fox game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

“It's great synergy between the network, station and Web,” says VP/General Manager Kevin Hale, who also oversees MyNetworkTV affiliate KCOP.

And while Tribune's KTLA may not be the biggest station in the market, it boasts a rich history. A former WB outlet, the CW affiliate celebrates its 60th anniversary with programs looking back on its coverage of historic L.A. events, such as the R.F.K. assassination, the Watts riots and O.J.'s fateful ride on the 405.

KTLA's milestone was even commemorated with that most distinguished of L.A. honors: a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. “We're the only station with 'L.A.' in their name,” says VP/General Manager Vinnie Malcolm. “We are the L.A. station.”

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