KSDK has long held the crown in St. Louis, but its grip is slipping.
Gannett's NBC affiliate comfortably led in total-day ratings in February 2006 and owned news—winning morning, evening and late news
during that sweeps. Come February 2007, however, it held a much slimmer lead in total day, fell to third in prime and shared the lead in the 10 p.m. news in households.
In St. Louis, viewers are drawn to locally produced fare, station managers say. Syndicated programs, such as Wheel of Fortune and The Oprah Winfrey Show, are a central part of the business model, and the market's sports teams, including baseball's Cardinals and football's Rams, score big with fans.
As KSDK has slipped, CBS affiliate KMOV has taken major strides. It holds a huge lead in primetime, thanks to network fare like CSI, and shared the late-news title with KSDK. Further complicating matters, Fox affiliate KTVI is leaping forward as well.
“Others will say it's between the NBC and CBS affiliates for No. 1, but that day is over,” blusters KTVI VP/General Manager Spencer Koch. “What we've done is nothing short of sensational.”
Much is at stake in Nielsen's No. 21 market, although the economy is less than robust (it ranks No. 25 in revenue). Automotive advertising continues to lag, while telecommunications has picked up some slack. St. Louis took in an estimated $226.5 million in 2006, according to BIA Financial, up from $205.9 million the year before. KSDK led the way with $67.3 million in 2005 (the most recent year BIA offers station tallies), ahead of Belo's KMOV ($52 million), Fox O&O KTVI ($35.6 million) and Tribune's CW outlet KPLR ($25.2 million). Sinclair's ABC affiliate KDNL actually finished behind the CW station in 2005, as did Roberts' MyNetworkTV outlet WRBU.
The competition is intent on knocking KSDK from its perch. Besides its primetime gains, KMOV grew considerably in morning news and racked up a bunch of trophies, including a Peabody Award for a series on schools in troubled East St. Louis. The station also does well with homegrown shows, such as a pair of Saturday talent programs called Junior Stars and Lucky Break. “We've had a lot of success with local productions,” says President/General Manager Allan Cohen.
KTVI, which offers 8½ hours of news a day, has made gains online as well as on-air. Having unveiled a revamped Website last fall, Koch says, the station got a huge boost when Washington go-to blog Drudge Report linked to www.myfoxstl.com for a story on kidnapped teen Shawn Hornbeck. And reaching out to the area's online community, the station recently hosted some 250 bloggers for “Blogapalooza.” “Our page views are going crazy,” says Koch. “We're getting almost as many hits as the [daily newspaper] St. Louis Post-Dispatch.”
The ABC affiliate continues to struggle, but one bright spot is young Bart Simpson: KDNL has been airing back-to-back Simpsons in prime access for years, with considerable success. “As long as it stays in first-run,” says General Manager Tom Tipton, “we'll leave it there.”
And as locally produced fare connects in St. Louis, the MNT affiliate will pour resources into shows like Spanish-language talker Enterate and racy Real Talk With Jeanne. “We plan to beef up both,” says VP of Sales Bonni Burns.
As of now, though, it's a three-horse race, and KSDK is determined to stay ahead. President/General Manager Lynn Beall is optimistic about an anchor change; 23-year station veteran Deanne Lane took over the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts in January after longtime anchor Karen Foss retired.
KSDK.com continues to beat the competition online, Beall adds, and the station has offered hi-def news since February 2006. She says, “We're the only local broadcast station in town that's HD.”