Market Eye: Affluence and Influence In the Bay Area

Upwardly mobile San Francisco market presents unique challenges to local broadcasters
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The San Francisco market is both a dream for local TV professionals and a nightmare. Every day, the stations reach into the homes of the brightest technology minds. But getting early adopters to turn on the TV is a challenge. Station general managers here speak of both affluence and influence in Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area, but persistently low viewership levels. “It makes all the usual competitive issues that much more intense,” says Bruno Cohen, KPIX president and general manager. “You just have to do better.”

The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose stations know they have to win on digital platforms to win, period. When KGO needed a general manager after Valari Staab jumped to NBC, it hired William Burton, then head of digital media for ABC’s owned group. KGO is enjoying a mobile advantage with the Watch ABC app deployed in DMA No. 6. Burton says being first out with full-scale TV on the go is key.

“Broadcasters used to be one flavor for all,” he says. “We have to figure out how to be Baskin-Robbins.”

In a market where the ABC, CBS and NBC stations are network-owned, KTVU remains the one to beat. The Fox affiliate enjoys a very strong brand, well-entrenched management and talent and full commitment from Cox. “The company is very supportive when it comes to innovation,” says Tom Raponi, VP and general manager, “whether it’s technology or training or investing in social media.”

The station made headlines for the wrong reasons last July when it reported fabricated, and racially offensive, names on the air following the Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco. The competition says KTVU did not skip a beat, drawing on the considerable good will the station has in the Bay Area. Raponi is reluctant to discuss the mishap. “I look forward,” he says.

KTVU dominates adults 25-54 news ratings. But KPIX had the top total-day household rating in the November sweeps and won primetime. KPIX and KGO were virtually tied at 5 p.m. in households and KGO took 6 p.m., while KTVU won 25-54 in those races. KTVU had a 4.4 household rating/9.9 share at 10, with KGO posting a 3.5/10.4 at 11.

Cox also owns independent KICU. CBS has KPIX and CW-aligned KBCW. NBC owns KNTV and Telemundo station KSTS, which get sports from Comcast Sports Net. KGO, which this fall will add Rachael Ray, is part of ABC. MyNetworkTV affiliate KRON is moving into the KGO facilities, though owner Media General stresses that KRON will continue to be run independently.

Brian Greif resigned as KRON general manager in January due to health problems. George Mahoney, Media General president and CEO, raved about the culture at KRON, pointing to its 56½ hours of news per week. “That’s exactly what we want here,” he says.

Spanish-language options include Univision’s KDTV-KFSF pair and NRJ’s Estrella station KTNC. Granite’s KOFY is an independent and Lincoln’s KTSF airs Asian programming. Comcast is the major subscription TV operator.

KDTV offers well-rated 6 and 11 p.m. news in Spanish. The station’s “Univision Bay Area’s” community initiatives include the youth reading program Vamos a Leer (Let’s Read).

KNTV has seen ratings increases since Comcast acquired the NBC group. The station features a massive investigative team with at least a dozen dedicated staffers. “Gathering news is the heart of the station, but we consider investigative to be the soul,” says Richard Cerussi, president and general manager. “We really spend a lot of time and resources on it.”

While KTVU’s news ratings are up year over year, staffers are motivated by rivals breathing down their necks. “Everyone puts out good product here,” says Raponi. “You just have to be that much better every day.”

KNTV Says New Levi's Fits Nicely

KNTV is enjoying life as part of Comcast, evident in perks including a new relationship with the San Francisco 49ers. Comcast has a 10-year partnership with the team and Levi’s Stadium, its new home in Santa Clara. Comcast SportsNet, which provides sports reports to KNTV, is building a 1,000-square-foot studio at the stadium. As an official broadcast partner, KNTV will get unique historical and practice video and exclusive interviews and will air shows 49ers Way and The Faithful. (KPIX airs 49ers preseason games; most regular-season contests are on Fox’s KTVU.)

The $1.2 billion venue opens this year. Richard Cerussi, KNTV-KSTS president/GM, calls it a “pretty cool deal” for NBC’s local outlets. “We plan to cover the Niners franchise from every angle,” he says, noting that Levi’s Stadium is about four miles from the NBC Bay Area base in San Jose.

The San Francisco market is both a dream for local TV professionals and a nightmare. Every day, the stations reach into the homes of the brightest technology minds. But getting early adopters to turn on the TV is a challenge. Station general managers here speak of both affluence and influence in Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area, but persistently low viewership levels. “It makes all the usual competitive issues that much more intense,” says Bruno Cohen, KPIX president and general manager. “You just have to do better.”

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