Phoenix Rising—Fast

As desert population booms, news competition flourishes
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Two things seem to be constants of late in Phoenix: New arrivals keep streaming in, and Gannett's NBC affiliate KPNX keeps winning late news. Not only is Phoenix the country's second-fastest-growing Hispanic market, but, thanks to the steady influx of retirees and Californians fleeing high housing costs, the No. 13 DMA nets some 9,000 new residents a month, say station executives. That makes for ample sampling, and lots of the newcomers end up tuning in to the KPNX news at 10 p.m.

Despite coming in last among the Big Four in primetime, KPNX just locked up its 49th straight 10 p.m. sweeps title after a “fabulous” May sweeps, says station President/General Manager John Misner. “We've got a great group of anchors that viewers know, like and trust,” he says, singling out 20-year KPNX veteran Lin Sue Cooney.

Phoenix is an ultra-competitive market with a half dozen stations in the news race. Besides KPNX, there's Meredith's CBS affiliate KPHO, the Fox affiliate KSAZ, Scripps' ABC outlet KNXV, Belo's independent KTVK and Univision's KTVW. Phoenix boasts two duopolies: Belo owns The CW outlet KASW, and Fox owns MyNetworkTV affiliate KUTP.

While KPNX also won evening news, KTVK grabbed the morning title. “There are no slouches in the bunch,” says KNXV VP/General Manager Janice Todd. “Viewers benefit from the competition, and it keeps us all strong.”

Phoenix TV racked up $439 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $388.4 million the year before. KPNX led with an estimated $91.7 million, ahead of KNXV ($69.5 million), KSAZ ($67.8 million) and KTVK ($66.7 million).

The population boom has bumped Phoenix up from DMA 14, and general managers say it could jump to No. 12 this fall. The influx has made construction a central economic driver, while retail, banking, telecommunications and quick-service restaurants keep the stations' sales staffs busy.

KPNX benefits from being in the sole market where Gannett has both a TV station and a daily newspaper. The station and The Arizona Republic jointly produce azcentral.com, which Misner says saw a 31% jump in page views (to 82 million) from May 2006 to May 2007. “We're responsible for breaking-news coverage and video,” he says of KPNX's Web presence.

The competition is hardly lying down. KSAZ won primetime on the strength of American Idol and House. Reigning Idol champ Jordin Sparks is from nearby Glendale and was the winner of KSAZ's Arizona Idol competition last fall.

“We met her when she was 16,” says VP/General Manager Pat Nevin. “There was definitely something special about her.” The sixth edition of Arizona Idol—the highlights appear on KSAZ's local programs—kicks off July 31.

KNXV went hi-def in June, joining KPNX and KTVK, and recently marked the one-year anniversary of its 4 p.m. news. “It's a great time slot for us,” says Todd. “When it's summer, the monsoons start brewing up, and no one else is doing news at 4.”

KPHO, the runner-up in primetime and late news, has increased MSNBC alumnus Sean McLaughlin's workload. The popular chief meteorologist took over the 5 p.m. news in April and is co-anchoring Sunday nights, too. The Meredith station has also announced that it will debut the parent company's women's lifestyle program Better September 10 at 3 p.m. “We'll run it between the soaps and Rachael Ray,” says VP/General Manager Steven Hammel.

Despite the competition's efforts, it's KPNX's title to lose. Misner acknowledges that NBC's prime woes make things challenging, but he's up for the battle: “We focus on what we can control.”

NEXT: BUFFALO, N.Y.

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