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Capital Improvements

KCRA has long been the big dog in Sacramento, but the CBS-owned KOVR appears poised to stop that. With new news sets, overhauled sales operations and a revamped approach to programming on both KOVR and sister CW station KMAX, the CBS duopoly is on top of its game.

“KCRA still outbills us, but if you look at how the duopoly performs, we substantially outbill them,” says KOVR/KMAX President/General Manager Bruno Cohen.

To be sure, it's KCRA's title to lose. Owned by Hearst-Argyle, which also owns the market's MyNetworkTV outlet KQCA, KCRA won total day ratings in the May book, while also grabbing morning, evening and late news (the NBC outlet took the latter with a 6.4/15 household rating, just ahead of KOVR's 6.2/11). Cohen concedes his rival is a smooth operator with a solid parent, but station managers say the crown is up for grabs.

“KCRA was the perennial market leader,” says Audrey Farrington, VP/General Manager at Fox affiliate KTXL. “But the last few years, there's a lot less gap in households between stations.”

The Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto market took in some $257.7 million last year, according to BIA Financial, a considerable leap from the $232.1 million earned the year before. BIA has KCRA and KOVR in a dead heat in terms of 2006 revenue, both grossing $51 million, better than KTXL and Gannett's ABC affiliate KXTV, both at $45 million. There's also a strong Univision outlet, KUVS, which grabbed $16 million last year.

While the market is relatively stable, thanks to the large number of government workers in the California capital, the area has been slammed by the mortgage lending crunch and has one of the country's highest foreclosure rates. As the rest of the country is starting to realize, home equity woes create quite a ripple effect. “If housing is off,” says KXTV President/General Manager Russell Postell, “retail is off, auto is off, vacation spending is off.”

TV spending is off, too. One station boss estimates 2007 is down in the double digits from 2006—even after taking last year's political spending out of the equation.

KCRA President/General Manager Elliott Troshinsky is confident the station can hold onto its share, thanks to the market's only high-def news, the technological know-how of Hearst-Argyle, and a savvy bunch of newshounds. “We've got the most aggressive and the most solid journalists in the market,” he says. “It's an incredible team, both on air and behind the scenes.”

Stations are upping their game to compete. KTXL is working on growing its morning news, and Farrington says the addition of Family Guy and Two and a Half Men has strengthened evenings. KXTV sends out some 14 news promos a day, driving viewership both on air and online. Postell also recently launched the Web properties, a portal/discussion group for women, and a local search engine powered by Redwire.

But the battle royale is between KCRA and KOVR. Cohen says KMAX's Good Day Sacramento outperforms Today in demos, and he's focused on improving news. “KCRA is a strong legacy station with strong news,” he says. “We have to be aggressive, and we need to become more competitive in news.”

Next: Green Bay-Appleton, Wis.

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.