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Market Eye: The Calm Before the Caucuses - Broadcasting & Cable

Market Eye: The Calm Before the Caucuses

Nexstar is investing big in Des Moines, but Hearst Television’s KCCI and Tribune Broadcasting’s WHO are tough to unseat
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The spending, and the spots, came pretty much nonstop leading up to Election Day, and both will start up again next summer ahead of Iowa’s famed caucuses. But for now, things are relatively placid on the Des Moines political front.

“It’s quiet now,” says Dale Woods, WHO president and general manager. “But we’re starting to see the presence of candidates who may be interested in the presidency.”

The Des Moines stations are busy. Brian Sather was named KCCI president/general manager a year ago. Nexstar swung a deal for WOI in Sept. 2013. More recently, it agreed to acquire CW outlet KCWI out of bankruptcy court; owner Harry Pappas has sued to block the sale, saying the $3.5 million price is well below market value.

Jon Skorburg was named WOI general manager in July. He cites the “unparalleled commitment” of Nexstar, which spent some $1 million-$1.5 million to fix up the operation. Viewers will see the results— branding, graphics, set, talent— in early 2015. “I’m very impressed with the amount Nexstar has poured into the station,” says Skorburg. “It’s an exciting time to be here.”

WOI has some catching up to do. Hearst TV-owned KCCI is a powerhouse. It won the total-day race in May, and also grabbed the 6 a.m. households and late news contests, and primetime by a mile. KCCI posted a 13.4 household rating/33.3 share at 10 p.m., ahead of WHO’s 10.3/25.7. The race in demos was far closer, advantage to KCCI. Tribune’s WHO won 6 p.m., and took the adults 25-54 race at 6 a.m.

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Sinclair owns Fox affiliate KDSM; WHO produces its 9 p.m. news. Woods says discussions about morning news may soon take place. Mediacom is the primary subscription TV operator in Des Moines-Ames.

Sather has pushed his staff to stay ahead of viewer trends. News is faster paced, KCCI has more of a live presence around town and there’s a new weather app. In interviewing KCCI staffers upon his arrival, Sather heard the word “family” over and over. “Everybody here walks in the door every day with a mission,” he says.

Des Moines-Ames is market No. 72 in TV homes, but BIA/ Kelsey has it at 67 in revenue. Des Moines was No. 1 on a Forbes list of “Best Places for Business and Careers,” with low business costs and an extraordinarily high education level. Finance and insurance, and a growing tech sector, are economic cornerstones. “Des Moines is more cosmopolitan than a lot of people give it credit for,” says Sather.

WHO debuted a 4 p.m. news in September, after Ellen moved to KCCI. “It created an opportunity to control our own inventory,” says Woods. “The political activity in the next three years will be significant, and it’s an opportunity to capitalize on that.”

KCCI aims to produce more specials, ranging from local sports to weather to politics, in 2015. Sather says the family vibe at KCCI will keep the station humming. “When you love what you do, and love the place you do it in,” he says, “it makes for some incredible results.”

WHAT’S WORKING IN DES MOINES-AMES: S-BAND RADAR SEES THROUGH STORMS

Weather is a giant driver of tune-in in Des Moines, and a frigid snap in November only reinforced the notion. The folks at WHO think they’ve got a key tool in the meteorological department in a Doppler S-Band radar setup. The cost of the technology, produced by Weather Detection Systems, was around $800,000, and it took a couple of years to get the appropriate license for it, says Dale Woods, WHO president and general manager.

Woods believes WHO is the first station in the country to deploy S-Band—most use CBand— which debuted in February, and, he says, enables viewers to look past the initial face of storms. The flashy gear gets a mention in the “About WHO-HD Channel 13” boilerplate at the end of station press releases.

“It really changes what we’re able to see,” says Woods, “and what we’re able to show.”

The spending, and the spots, came pretty much nonstop leading up to Election Day, and both will start up again next summer ahead of Iowa’s famed caucuses. But for now, things are relatively placid on the Des Moines political front.

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