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Competition Is in the Cards

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is famous for tinkering with baseball conventions, and the stations in DMA No. 21 are tweaking the tried-and-true local news formulas, too.

Longtime leader KSDK features a lone anchor at 10 p.m. KMOV is part of a Belo pilot program to drive automation through the Ignite system. KTVI-KPLR is expanding its reach through DataSphere’s community sites covering the city’s dozens of distinct neighborhoods.

“We’re pushing the fact that Fox 2 is covering your neighborhood,” says KTVI-KPLR President/General Manager Spencer Koch.

The stations hope their experiments work better than LaRussa’s; the beloved Cardinals fell short of the post-season this year. KMOV has reimagined the way it covers sports; the station is pairing up with local ESPN radio to air the 6 p.m. sports segment, featuring KMOV Sports Director Steve Savard broadcasting out of the radio facility. “Everyone knows the score of the game, so we said, ‘Let’s figure out a way to make sports more relevant,’” says KMOV President/General Manager Allan Cohen, who recently marked his 30th year atop the CBS affiliate. “We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from viewers.”

Gannett owns NBC affiliate KSDK, which has a storied legacy. The station launched the Gateway City’s first 4:30 a.m. news in February and won the total day, early evening and late news races in May households. Its 10.1 rating/17 share at 10 p.m. was a wee bit better than KMOV’s 9.7 rating/17 share. But Cohen says KMOV, initially dinged by St. Louis’ shift to Local People Meters in January 2009, took the 10 p.m. demo race in May.

According to KSKD President/General Manager Lynn Beall, the station thrives on listening to viewers. “With our multiple platforms on the Web and with social media, we can now be involved with that return path and really be part of a conversation with our audience,” she says via e-mail.

KMOV took primetime in May, while Local TV’s Fox affiliate KTVI won morning news. Other players include Sinclair’s ABC outlet KDNL, and Roberts Broadcasting’s MyNetworkTV affiliate WRBU. KDNL does not air local news.

Major local employers include Anheuser- Busch, Boeing and BJC HealthCare. General managers say TV revenue is going strong, with automotive, medical and financial services back on track, and political heating up. “It’s been a renaissance,” Cohen says. “It’s fun this year.”

KTVI-KPLR, a Fox-CW virtual duopoly (Local TV owns KTVI and Tribune owns KPLR), moved in together two years ago. No one’s made a bigger commitment to local news; Koch says the pair has increased its local output from 47 hours a week to a whopping 70 in the past few years. The dual schedules are set up so that viewers can find local news on either station most hours of the day.

KPLR debuted This TV recently, and launched a 4 p.m. newscast Sept. 20. “We continue to grow and prosper,” Koch says, “from one owner to another without a blip.” (Local TV acquired KTVI from Fox in 2008.)

Managers say the ratings race is wide open in St. Louis. “The city has a great legacy,” Koch says. “It’s a great local news town.”

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