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Local News Battle Royale in Phoenix

Reporter Brian Webb of KSAZ Phoenix
Reporter/anchor Brian Webb of Fox-owned KSAZ, which offers 12 hours of local news per day. (Image credit: KSAZ)

With Arizona a prime swing state on Election Day, stations in the capital enjoyed enormous political spending. It put an emphatic exclamation point on a year made dismal by the pandemic. 

“The market went nuts,” Andrew Deschapelles, president and general manager of KTAZ, said. “Arizona became very much a battleground state.”

Fox owns KSAZ and MyNetworkTV station KUTP. Scripps has ABC affiliate KNXV and CW affiliate KASW. Meredith has CBS-aligned KPHO and independent KTVK. Tegna owns NBC affiliate KPNX. Univision has KTVW-KFPH and Telemundo holds KTAZ. 

Cox Communications is Phoenix’s primary pay TV operator. 

DMA No. 11 added 279,000 TV households from 2020 to 2021, according to Nielsen. Stations are increasing their news output. KSAZ does 12 hours of news per weekday and KUTP simulcasts OTT product NewsNow from Fox 10 a.m. to noon weekdays. NewsNow is “very raw and unfiltered,” said VP/news director Doug Bannard.

KNXV has made KASW a news destination.  

KTAZ does 11 a.m., 4-5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. news weekdays, with Deschapelles citing NBCUniversal’s ownership as key. “That investment was really substantial,” he said, mentioning how the news department spiked from three people to 30 over the course of a year. 

KTVW has 11:30 a.m., 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. news, and Joe Donnarumma, president and general manager, is thinking about mornings. “It’s always in discussion,” he said. 

In November, KSAZ and KTVK tied in 6 a.m. households, and KSAZ took the 25-54 title. At 5-5:30 p.m., KNXV had the top household score, followed by KSAZ and KPNX. (KPNX and KNXV have network news at 5:30.) KTVW topped KSAZ in the 25-54 race at 5. KNXV had the top local household score at 6 p.m., while KSAZ won 25-54. 

The 10 p.m. household race saw KNXV at 2.5, KPNX at 1.9, KSAZ and KPHO at 1.8,  KTVW at 1.6, KTVK at 1.2 and KTAZ at 0.7. In 25-54, KTVW did a 1.3 and KSAZ a 0.9. KPNX got a 0.8, KTAZ a 0.7, KNXV a 0.6, KPHO a 0.4 and KTVK a 0.3. 

KSAZ thrives on an average anchor tenure of 18 years at the station. “We’ve carved out our niche as the big-story station,” Bannard said.

The Phoenix market has adopted ATSC 3.0. The Big Four stations share a helicopter.

Stations are figuring out how remote working will work when the pandemic ends. Anita Helt, VP and general manager at KNXV-KASW, mentioned how reporters like the more “efficient” morning editorial meetings now, which get them out the door faster. Staffers miss serendipitous meetings that spark ideas, she said, but Helt is pleased to see how quickly staffers adapted. “If anyone asked a year ago, could you do that, I would’ve thought they were dreaming,” she said. 

KSAZ will test The Mediator with Ice-T starting March 1. “We like to pride ourselves as a viable test market,” said Mark Rodman, senior VP and general manager. “If it gets any traction we’ll roll it out nationally.”

KTVW-KFPH is hosting the virtual small business event Possible April 6-8. “It’s informational but also inspirational,” said Donnarumma. 

Tourism is down, but real estate is booming. “We are cautiously optimistic that, once the vaccine is widely distributed, things will turn around,” said Rodman. 

Local content is a dynamic business in Phoenix. “The news cycle just does not stop,” said Helt. “What we do as news organizations is more important than ever.”