Interesting times in the Twin Cities

Minneapolis and St. Paul have sort of a split personality. While the two comprise the largest urban center in Minnesota and are home to many large corporations, they are also the center of a rich agricultural area. And there are anomalies in the television business. While it is the country's 13th-largest TV market, it's way down at 198 in terms of cable penetration (55%).

Of its eight commercial stations, six have news departments, including the UPN affiliate and an independent. "It's a unique market," says Stuart Swartz, GM of KMSP-TV, the UPN station owned by Chris-Craft. "We've got 84 people in our news department, two ENG trucks and one SNG truck." In addition to 3½ hours of morning news, Swartz's station also runs 90 minutes at night. "We're Central Time, and so we run 9-10 p.m. and 10-10:35." And he has competition since WFTC (Fox) and KSTC-TV (the indie) launched 9 p.m. news within the past year.

Independent KSTC-TV is half the Hubbard duopoly (with KSTP-TV), and both stations are run by GM Ed Piette. His stations (and Hubbard's radio outlets) developed an unusual marketing tool in the KSTP Broadcast Center Store in the city's Mall of America. "With 43 million visitors a year, of which 27 million are local, it's like having your own billboard there."

TV in Minneapolis-St. Paul is headed for a shakeup when News Corp.'s pending purchase of the Chris-Craft stations clears the FCC. News Corp. will pick up KMSP-TV, and the question on everyone's mind is, what will happen to the Fox affiliation? Will it get moved from Clear Channel's WFTC; will there be station swaps with a group in another market or a divestiture that results in another duopoly? WFTC GM Steve Spendlove doesn't know: "We're in a wait-and-see pattern which we've been in since August." The uncertainty "doesn't make our lives any easier and certainly doesn't help the people at Chris-Craft either. Neither of us knows exactly what the future is going to hold."

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