Hawaii Thrive-O

“The Cartel” may sound like a local crime syndicate that Hawaii Five-0 cops Steve McGarrett and Danno are chasing, but it’s just one of the many nicknames given to the local news monolith created just over a year ago in Honolulu. Raycom’s KHNL (NBC) and KGMB (CBS) and GMC’s MyNetworkTV outlet KFVE now operate under the same roof and Hawaii News Now banner. (Other monikers used by competitors include “The Triopoly” and “The Multiplex.”)

The newsroom has considerable newsgathering heft, with 62 staffers. Initial controversy over the shared services agreement from public interest groups has quieted. The competition says it’s not so much the reporting reach of Hawaii News Now in DMA No. 72—it’s the promotional might. “If they have something that’s promotable, they get to promote it on three stations that night,” says Michael Rosenberg, KITV president/general manager.

HNN tapped newspaper veteran Mark Platte to be news director in May. Platte is pushing for deeper-digging stories. “We’re changing the broadcast to make it fast-paced and fresh,” he says. “There’s a harder edge than before—that’s what I bring from newspapers.”

New Vision’s Fox affiliate KHON won’t surrender the local crown easily. The station booked nearly $17 million in 2009, according to BIA/Kelsey, with KGMB and Hearst TV’s ABC outlet KITV virtually tied for second. KGMB and KITV also virtually tied for the prime title in May. KGMB won 5-7 a.m., while KHON took evening and late news, its 10 household rating/24 share at 10 p.m. edging KGMB’s 9/23.

KHON thrives on the tenure and chemistry of its anchor crew, fronted by local celeb Joe Moore. “You might say he’s the most trusted man in Hawaii,” says Joe McNamara, KHON president/general manager.

Other players include independents KIKU and KBFD. The CW airs on KHON’s .2 channel. Time Warner Cable is the major pay-TV service.

Business is picking up. Retail and financial services are increasing their TV spend. Tourism is on the rise again. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit is expected to draw 20,000 people to Honolulu in 2011. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is coming back to Hawaii in January.

Political spending has been huge. Besides the local races, President Obama’s local roots make Hawaii a symbolic prize for the national parties. “There’s more interest on a national basis this season than we’ve ever had,” says Rosenberg.

Stations are as competitive as the candidates. KITV extended its 10 p.m. news to an hour this fall, while adding weekend morning news. The station debuted a 6 p.m. Saturday news last spring. “We’ve added a ton of newscasts,” says Rosenberg, who retires at the end of the year.

KHON features a new set with a traffic and weather forecast center and a “living-room feel,” says McNamara, for Wake Up 2-Day.

Hawaii News Now hosted a Hawaii Five-0 screening party a week before the show’s debut. Locals flocked to the beach for an evening of entertainment centered around the cop show.

Even with the competition heating up, Hawaii’s natural beauty—and improving economy— has McNamara relaxed. “I kiss the ground every day,” he says. “It’s paradise here.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

Michael Malone

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.