Plain Dominant

KWCH stays ahead in rebounding market
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If broadcasters in the Wichita-Hutchinson, Kan., market hoped the sale of KWCH might cause the longtime market leader to stumble, the CBS affiliate quickly dashed that dream. After Media General sold KWCH to Schurz Communications last September, the station won total-day ratings, primetime, early-evening news and late news during November sweeps.

If anything, says President/General Manager Joan Barrett, KWCH got stronger: “While the other stations are consolidating, Schurz has put a lot of investment in the station. It was a great move for us.”

The station has held its lead in Nielsen's No. 67 market, which took in an estimated $59.4 million last year, according to BIA Financial, up from $56.1 million in 2005. But the competition, led by NBC affiliate KSNW, has been fine-tuning their offerings to change the dynamic.

KSNW, which is owned by Blackstone Ventures, recently signed a construction permit to build a digital station and has adopted a single-anchor format with longer stories and a more upbeat tone. “We're doing more success stories and news about your neighbors,” says President/General Manager Al Buck, “not just fires and accidents.”

To be sure, extreme-weather stories are always a draw in the tornado belt. Terry Cole, president/general manager of ABC affiliate KAKE, is betting that “a heavy dose of weather might bring the viewers” to the station's 4 p.m. news. The Gray Broadcasting-owned station, which won morning news in November, launched the newscast last month against The Oprah Winfrey Show on KWCH.

Cole attributes recent gains at KAKE to ABC's resurgent prime, along with innovations like “KAKE on Your Cell,” mobile news flashes that he says yield a million monthly Web hits.

Clear Channel's Fox affiliate KSAS airs 9 p.m. news produced by KWCH. Says KSAS VP/General Manager Kent Cornish, “The newscast has grown every ratings book.”

Banks Broadcasting's CW affiliate KSCW does not air news, but the former WB station has seen a big boost since switching affiliations. “It's totally exceeded expectations,” says Banks Broadcasting CEO Lyle Banks. “We expected a little uptick some nights, but the entire primetime is up 13%.” He credits strong branding from CW headquarters, along with getting new viewers after the UPN affiliate shifted to MyNetworkTV.

All the stations are focusing on digital products. Unfortunately for the competition, that includes KWCH. The station overhauled its Website this past fall and got “record hits” from live coverage of a memorial service for a murder victim.

“We're streaming a lot more things,” Barrett says. “It's much more dynamic.”

With aircraft production central to its economy, the Wichita-Hutchinson area has struggled to bounce back from the airline industry's post-9/11 woes. But station managers say planes are selling and the vast market—it comprises some 65 counties in three states—is stable.

Restaurants, retail and telecommunications are advertising, and with AT&T set to offer its U-verse TV service this year, that should see both it and cable operator Cox increase their marketing.

“It's not shoot to the moon, and it's not drop out of sight,” says KSNW's Buck. “It's steady growth.”

Next: Richmond-Petersburg, Va.

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