Phoenix Rising

Southwest boomtown works through major economic ills
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For a corner of the country where individuals wear their independence like a badge of honor, there’s a lot of collaboration going on in Phoenix. Sharing in the market is rife: A helicopter share between stations owned by Meredith, Gannett and Belo has been in place for two years, and a content cooperative on the ground has been running between Meredith, Fox and Scripps for almost as long.

Few markets felt the brunt of the recession more than Phoenix, which remains crippled by the home foreclosure crisis. Those ills helped motivate local stations to think of new ways to do business. “The economic downturn was pretty remarkable,” says Ed Munson, KPHO vice president and general manager. “We looked at each other and said, ‘Why are there five helicopters in the sky?’”

It’s an exceptionally rich news scene in DMA No. 12. Besides typical news operations from the Big Four affiliates, Belo airs news on its independent, KTVK. (Belo also owns CW affiliate KASW, which does not air news.) A broad affiliation switch in the mid-’90s rendered KTVK, a former ABC station, unaffiliated; the station airs Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz in primetime and has a full slate of newscasts. “Most markets do not have a true independent doing 8½ hours of news a day,” says Nick Nicholson, president and general manager of the Belo pair.

The ratings race is extremely close. Foxowned KSAZ, a CBS affiliate until Phoenix’s big affiliation shakeup, was virtually tied for the total day household ratings title with Meredith’s CBS affiliate, KPHO, in the February sweeps. KSAZ won 5 p.m. news, while Gannett NBC affiliate KPNX won 6 p.m. KTVK won morning news. KSAZ topped KPHO in primetime by a tenth of a ratings point. That slim margin also decided the vital late news race, with KPNX’s 4.9 rating/9 share ahead of KPHO’s 4.8/9.

Other Phoenix players include Scripps ABC affiliate KNXV (which is searching for a general manager following Janice Todd’s retirement), Fox’s MyNet outlet KUTP and Spanishlanguage options such as Univision’s KTVW and Telemundo’s KTAZ. KTVW, managed by Roberto Yanez, has a strong 5 p.m. news.

Cox is Phoenix’s major cable operator.

KPNX moved in with Gannett sibling The Arizona Republic in January. The two have long shared AZCentral.com, and now share a newsroom. The tragic shootings in Tucson earlier this year were a test for the newly merged operation; around 110 miles separate the cities. “Everybody worked together without regard to their home platform,” says John Misner, COO of Gannett division Republic Media and GM at KPNX. “The quantity and quality of the coverage we had would not have been possible without the cooperation.”

Spring training is wrapping up in the region this week. With the Cincinnati Reds moving to Goodyear, Ariz., this winter, 15 teams now play in the Cactus League. “That’s had a big impact on the market,” says Pat Nevin, KSAZ vice president and general manager. “Anything that brings more people to Phoenix is good.”

Greater Phoenix has been slow to recover from the brutal recent past. Homebuilders overestimated Phoenix’s growth potential; there are way too many homes on the market. Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation, known as SB 1070, sparked a boycott among tourists and conventioneers that is finally beginning to subside. “The whole illegal immigration topic is still front and center for our news department and our viewers,” says Nevin.

Despite the setbacks, GMs say Phoenix is poised to grow again. “All the reasons so many people moved here before—the terrific lifestyle, the cost of living—are still there,” says Munson. “This will continue to be a growth market.”

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

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