News Drives TV Surge



Local Flavor

Combine an expensive recall election with a widespread supermarket strike, and toss in the usual mixture of earthquakes, fires and celebrity scandals, and 2003 was a busy year for Los Angeles television stations.

Many stations were flush with political dollars, thanks to last fall's campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis. It was a welcome contribution, given that a lingering union walkout at several major supermarket chains virtually eliminated ad revenue from that segment during the prime holiday season.

Los Angeles stations face fierce ad competition from cable. The market is considered the birthplace of modern local cable advertising. It's the home of Adlink, the nation's first cable interconnect, reaching more than 3.5 million households. Adlink inserts commercials on 44 cable networks.

But news drove the market, and major breaking stories preempted both regular programming and stations' ad avails.

The election of actor Arnold Schwarzenegger as governor prompted at least four stations to resurrect news bureaus in the state capital. KNBC-TV, KABC-TV, KCBS-TV and CBS-owned independent KCAL-TV have all announced plans for a permanent Sacramento presence.

The return of CBS network programming to prominence boosted the fortunes of KCBS-TV, which topped the market's prime time ratings for the first time since 1994. Its late newscast, however, still finished third (4.2 rating/9 share), behind perennial champ KNBC-TV (7.3/15) and KABC-TV (6.3/13).

Spanish-language stations scored substantial gains. Univision's KMEX-TV ran third overall (total households) in the November sweeps, while its KFTR(TV) (Telefutura) was 10th. "Each experienced continued viewership growth, while the prime time audience of all but one of our broadcast competitors decreased," said Univision COO Ray Rodriguez.

"We really focus on serving our community, and the community responds," said Jorge Delgado, president and general manager of Univision's Los Angeles stations.

Los Angeles will enter a new ratings era this spring, when Nielsen launches its local people meters, a move local GMs are watching closely.