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The Comfort Zone

The Fresno, Calif., TV market enjoys a diverse and growing populace, yet the city retains a small-town feel. A mild climate and low cost of living attract residents to the 58th-largest TV market. “Agriculture is the backbone here,” says KFSN President/GM Eric Lerner, but new businesses are gaining ground. Local broadcasters are eager to cash in on the expansion.

TV stations expect to see $107 million in revenue this year, up slightly from $105 million in 2004, according to BIA Research. The ad market will likely post a modest uptick over last year; station executives predict low-single-digit percent gains.

ABC O&O station KFSN is the heavyweight in news and overall ratings, commanding a healthy lead over its English- and Spanish-language rivals. Thanks to its Disney ownership, KFSN gets a big-market boost. The station regularly collaborates with sister stations KABC Los Angeles and KGO San Francisco; on big stories, such as the Scott Peterson trial, the three share resources and reporting. They also operate a joint Sacramento bureau. “It gives us a huge advantage,” says Lerner.

In the past year, KFSN added newscasts weekdays at 6:30 p.m. and on weekend mornings. Univision-owned KFTV is the second-highest-rated station in the market, and it programs local news. Rival Telemundo station KNSO may add news as well.

KFSN’s closest English-language competitor is Granite Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate KSEE. Station President/GM Todd McWilliams says KSEE needs to be scrappy in order to compete. “They have a lot of toys,” he notes. “We need to be smarter with our resources.” One important move was recruiting former KFSN and KABC veteran Mike Espinoza as news director. McWilliams says KSEE relentlessly examines every part of its news—from graphics to packaging—to chip away at KFSN’s dominance.

Clear Channel owns the CBS affiliate KGPE, ranked third. Pappas Telecasting operates the Fox affiliate KMPH and WB station KFRE.

Fresno’s population is expected to grow 1.7% through 2008, more than twice the national average. Another sign of the region’s increased visibility: The University of California system is opening a campus in nearby Merced.

Getting cable is a challenge here. The mountains render Fresno geographically isolated, so wiring is difficult. Penetration is lower than in other top- 75 markets—around 49%. Comcast is the major cable operator, but DBS satellite is a popular alternative, with 24% of homes subscribing.

“Outsiders see Fresno as a great place to live,” says McWilliams. “Every fourth house has a family relocated from L.A. or San Francisco.” NeXT: pittsburgh