Market Eye: Raising Arizona

Tucson back on track after last year’s tragedy; news race remains torrid
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More than a year has passed since a terrifying act of violence struck close to home in Tucson, Ariz. But with each step that former local congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords takes, area residents feel their mood brighten.

The attempted assassination of Giffords last Jan. 8 was a significant blow to the city’s collective psyche, and it affected local businesses too. “The event dampened the mood of the business community,” says Julie Brinks, vice president and general manager of KGUN. “There was a period of community mourning, but we’ve come out more positive.”

Tucson features one of the classic three-way local TV news races in the U.S. Raycom’s CBS outlet KOLD, Cordillera’s NBCaligned KVOA and Journal Broadcast Group’s ABC affiliate KGUN all scrap for ratings points daily. “It’s a tough, tight market with three or four good competitors,” says Debbie Bush, vice president and general manager at KOLD. “Journal and Cordillera do a very good job with what they do—and Belo’s a great company too.”

Bush knows the Belo operation—Fox affiliate KMSB and MyNetworkTV outlet KTTU—intimately since Raycom entered a shared services agreement with Belo on Feb. 1 (“Station to Station,” Jan. 30). All three stations fl ipped the switch on local HD, and KMSB gets a morning newscast out of the arrangement. (Bob Simone and Bob Richardson, KMSB GM and news director, respectively, departed in early February.)

The competition does not envision a major shakeup to the pecking order. “The changes across the street really don’t matter [to us],” says Bill Shaw, president and general manager at KVOA. “I don’t see the impact of it.”

KOLD won the morning news household ratings race in last November’s sweeps. KVOA took a very close 5 p.m. fight and tied KGUN at 6, with KOLD a tenth of a point behind. KOLD took total-day and primetime ratings, along with 10 p.m. news with an 8.4 rating/21 share—better than KGUN’s 5.6/14.1.

KOLD thrives on a tireless local mandate from corporate, says Bush. “Raycom is all about good local news,” she says. “They do the right thing.”

Comcast and Cox are the main subscription TV operators. Journal Broadcast also owns CW affiliate KWBA and four radio stations in town.

Over a third of the market’s residents claim Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. Their viewing options include Telemundo-owned KHRR and Univision-owned KUVE; Univision’s Noticias 33 is a power at 5 and 10 p.m.

The Sun Belt was beat up badly by the home foreclosure crisis. The Tucson (Sierra Vista) DMA dropped from No. 67 to No. 70 in the most recent Nielsen rankings, but station general managers say things are picking up. Giffords resigned from Congress last month, and both a primary and general election for her seat will put cash in stations’ coffers. With the state’s controversial immigration laws, long-red Arizona may even be a swing state in the presidential election. “Arizona is in play,” believes Bush.

Viewers are in play, too. KGUN added the ABC owned stations’ Live Well Network as a multicast last September. Brinks says Live Well’s health and wellness programs line up nicely with an ABC audience. KOLD added Me-TV.

Like any NBC affiliate, KVOA could use a bump in primetime. But Shaw is optimistic, especially with The Voice rolling again. “I see positive signs on the horizon that we’ll improve our lot in primetime,” he says. “It looks like [NBC parent Comcast] is really paying attention.”

While housing values continue to plague Tucson, other indicators have residents walking with a bounce in their step. “I’m getting the sense for the first time in three years,” says Shaw, “that there are positive signs and results.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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