February Has Been Super, March Will Be Madness

Spokane, Wash., TV stations are revved up by lively sports season involving elite local teams
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KHQ and KREM have been neck and neck for years in Spokane, Wash., but KREM has enjoyed clear advantages. Its CBS primetime is booming, and the former Belo station now thrives on the breadth of the Gannett group. KREM got a taste of Gannett’s scale when it shared Super Bowl content from siblings KUSA Denver and KING Seattle, freeing the station up to cover the champion Seahawks’ ballyhooed “12th Man” fan base. (Spokane and Seattle are a four-hour drive apart.)

“We were able to share terrific content on a daily basis,” says Jamie Aitken, KREM president and general manager. “The resources of all our properties worked out great for us.”

KHQ enjoys more of a regional spread. Patricia McRae is one of the busiest executives in television. Besides being president and general manager of KHQ, she’s president of Cowles Montana Media, which includes a batch of stations running across Montana. She also has oversight of ones in Yakima and southeastern Washington’s Tri-Cities. An NBC affiliate, KHQ taps its regional reach to program its SWX sports channel, which features three or four live events a week—primarily high school action, with some secondary pro sports as well. McRae says arena football puts up around a 2 rating. “The sports channel is just going gangbusters,” she says.

Winter Olympics ratings also were robust in snowy Spokane. Slopestyle gold medalist Sage Kotsenburg is a local boy, based just over the border in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho.

The ratings race is as competitive as anything going on in Sochi. KHQ grabbed totalday household ratings in November, its 3.6 rating/14 share bettering KREM’s 3.2/12. KREM won prime, with KHQ taking second. KREM posted a 3.3/21 in late news, ahead of KHQ’s 2.4/15, with KREM winning adults 25- 54 too. KHQ won the narrowest of 5 p.m. races, and had a wider win margin in mornings.

Comcast is the main cable operator, though Spokane, with tricky terrain, is a substantial satellite TV market. Morgan Murphy Media owns ABC affiliate KXLY and seven local radio stations. Northwest Broadcasting has Fox affiliate KAYU, whose news comes from KHQ. Gannett has a duopoly in KREM and CW outlet KSKN; the pair has Live Well Network and AccuWeather on its subchannels.

A fallen tree knocked KAYU off the air for nine minutes during the Seahawks’ NFC championship game victory, but ratings were “off the charts” for the Super Bowl, says Doug Holroyd, general manager. He’s awaiting the Nielsens in the diary market, but will be surprised if the share is south of 80.

KXLY dropped MyNetworkTV for Me-TV two years ago. Teddie Gibbon, VP and general manager, says Me-TV at times rivals KXLY’s ratings in access. “Some markets are Me-TV markets,” she says. “Spokane is one of them.”

The KREM crew is geared up for NCAA basketball March Madness; Gonzaga is a beloved local team.

The Spokane economy is so-so. While it is market No. 73, BIA/Kelsey ranks it a dismal No. 89 in revenue. “We’re not seeing spikes, but we really never have,” says McRae. “We do see a return to pretty solid numbers.”

Multiple general managers describe the TV news operations as “aggressive.” KREM is focused on investigative reporting—stories that go deeper than typical consumer watchdog fare. Community initiatives are a big priority around town; the stations can truly make their mark here, say the GMs. “You can make a difference in a market like this,” says McRae. “You don’t get lost in the shuffle.”

The chamber of commerce pitches Spokane as “Near Nature. Near Perfect,” and the TV execs say that’s apt. “It’s a small-town atmosphere with all the big city attractions, and no big city traffic,” says Aitken. “Check that—no traffic at all.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN SPOKANE: KREM FOCUSES ON THE POSITIVE

Amid the fires, armed robberies and other dour staples of local TV news, there’s room for positive stuff too, says Jamie Aitken, president and general manager of KREM. The station has an online and on-air segment called KREM Good News. “Our news reflects the community,” says Aitken. “It’s not all about bad news. When we look at social media, they like the fact that communities band together and accomplish good things.”

KREM has adopted the local Honor Flight program, sending some 400 World War II vets to the war’s memorial in Washington. Anchor Randy Shaw sings on a CD titled “In Your Honor,” which benefits Honor Flight. “We can mobilize a community,” says Aitken. “It’s a privilege to be able to do that.”

KHQ and KREM have been neck and neck for years in Spokane, Wash., but KREM has enjoyed clear advantages. Its CBS primetime is booming, and the former Belo station now thrives on the breadth of the Gannett group. KREM got a taste of Gannett’s scale when it shared Super Bowl content from siblings KUSA Denver and KING Seattle, freeing the station up to cover the champion Seahawks’ ballyhooed “12th Man” fan base. (Spokane and Seattle are a four-hour drive apart.)

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