Market Eye: Staying Classy in San Diego

New owners mean hotter competition in sunny Southern Cal
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With a rich batch of local news outlets—network affiliates, independents, Spanish-language stations— San Diego has long been one of the more competitive TV news markets in the nation. Add to the mix a couple of new owners vowing major commitments to their stations, and the contest is getting even tighter.

Comcast grabbed KNSD last year, and Scripps took over KGTV last fall. Managers at those stations are excited about the new parents. “It’s nice to be owned by a broadcaster,” says Jeff Block, KGTV vice president and general manager. “It’s great to have Scripps’ resources— not just financial, but their expertise in other markets too.”

KNSD is getting what Richard Kelley, president and general manager, calls “a very fair and very substantial investment” from corporate. “We’ll be shoring up our news operation and be better on the street,” he says.

KNSD won mornings and was runner up in early evenings in February, but CBS affiliate KFMB rules. The station won primetime, early evening and late news—the latter with a 3.9 household rating/10 share at 11, ahead of ABC affiliate KGTV’s 2.8/7. Pat Nevin took over KFMB in August and ushered in changes immediately. KFMB added 4:30 a.m. news, Live! With Kelly at 9 and Anderson at 4.

“We’d been a consistent station for a long time,” Nevin says. “But a number of time periods changed for fall.”

Nevin attributes the success to local ownership (despite the name, Midwest Television is based in San Diego) and affiliation consistency (KFMB has been a CBS outlet since signing on). Midwest owns one TV station, but several radio outlets; Nevin also oversees a local JACK FM and an AM news talk outlet.

Despite housing woes, San Diego has long outperformed its market rank when it comes to revenue; Nielsen’s No. 28 DMA, it is No. 20 in terms of revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey. The violence in Mexico has sparked an influx of new residents. The Spanish-language offerings include Televisora DeCalimex’s XEWT and Entravision’s XHAS-KTCD-KBNT group.

The local economy is picking up, with robust automotive advertising brightening the picture for stations. “The market seems to be moving in the right direction,” says Ray Schonbak, vice president and general manager at KSWB. “I feel positive about where it’s going.”

Tribune owns KSWB, a Fox affiliate that does eight-and-a-half hours of news a day. Texas Television has independent KUSI, Televisora Alco owns MyNetworkTV affiliate XDTV, and CW affiliate XETV is part of Grupo Televisa. Three English-language stations offer 10 p.m. news, with KUSI winning in February. KUSI also airs a monster five-hour Good Morning San Diego.

Cox is the main subscription-TV operator, followed by Time Warner Cable.

All are doing what they can to get ahead. KGTV should improve its early-evening performance with Katie at 4 p.m. next fall. KNSD now does its own weather in early evenings, after sister KNBC Los Angeles provided it the last few years, and has beat reporters dedicated to the military and the Hispanic community. It may be some time before the resource infusion spells significantly higher ratings, but Greg Dawson, vice president of news, says KNSD’s content is stronger. “The amount of good journalism and enterprise reporting has increased dramatically,” he says.

That’s what it takes to stand out in San Diego, says Mike McKinnon, KUSI owner: “In this market, you don’t take long weekends.”

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

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