K.C.’s Two-Pronged Attack

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Call it double vision—TV station operators in Kansas City typically own duopolies, and they’re loading up their smaller channels with localized offerings. Scripps’ independent KMCI features Big 12 basketball from the likes of college powerhouses Kansas University and Kansas State. The station also kicked off news and weather briefs toward the end of 2010.

Meredith has a similar philosophy with MyNetworkTV (MNT) affiliate KSMO, which airs Missouri Valley Conference sports and a show about the Hispanic community called Que Pasa, KC?  “In the last year, we’ve really localized that station,” says Bobby Totsch, VP/general manager of KCTV-KSMO (and former U. of Missouri linebacker). “Our two stations are more local than any of the other duopolies in Kansas City.”

Besides Scripps’ NBC/independent pair, KSHB and KMCI, and Meredith’s CBS-MNT duo, Hearst TV owns ABCCW duopoly KMBC and KCWE. KMBC is a local news power—the station won morning, early evening and late news in the November sweeps, taking the latter with a 9.6 household rating/16 share at 10 p.m., better than KCTV’s 8/13. KCTV rode CBS’ booming slate to a big primetime win, ahead of KMBC. The two shared totalday ratings honors.

KMBC thrives on a well-established anchor corps and the unfailing backing of parent Hearst TV. Wayne Godsey, KMBC president/GM, says Hearst approached the recent downturn differently than other station owners in the market. “Yes, we had to tighten our belts, but we didn’t go through our staff and our expenses with a machete,” he says. “I think that’s paying off now.”

Other players include Local TV’s Fox affiliate, WDAF. KCWE airs This TV on one digital channel and its “More TV” hybrid of local and acquired programming on another. Time Warner Cable is the major subscription-TV operator.

General managers say a robust 2010 seems to be carrying over into 2011. “Kansas City continues to move forward with a steady flow of business,” says Totsch. “We look at 2011 as another growth year.”

As the sister station offerings indicate, Kansas City is one of the major sports towns in the U.S. The NFL Chiefs’ postseason was short-lived, but basketball—particularly college—is akin to religion in DMA No. 31. The Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium saw a major renovation, soccer’s Sporting Kansas City got a new complex, and the Kansas Speedway racetrack also is new.

The stations are building as well. KCTV kicked off a partnership with McClatchy’s Kansas City Star on Jan. 1 that sees the two outlets working together on content and revenue opportunities. KCTV provides the seven-day weather forecast both in the newspaper and on the Star’sKansasCity.com. Reporters worked side-by-side on a police corruption scandal within days of the partnership starting.

“It was a pretty hot news story, and they were very helpful,” says Mike Fannin, Star VP/editor. “It’s a good example right out of the gate.”

KMBC got some Star ink recently when the paper reported that the ABC affiliate began airing Nightline at 11:35, as opposed to its longtime delayed start at 12:05. “We expect to stick with it,” says Godsey.

Mike Vrabac took over as GM of the Scripps stations early in 2010. KSHB has added an hour of news on Saturday mornings, and a 6 p.m. Saturday newscast as well. KSHB and KMBC added 4:30 a.m. news in late August, with KCTV just behind them.

Vrabac says all the moves are a vote of confidence for KSHB’s content. “We have really good local product, so it was our initiative to give it more exposure and put it in front of viewers at more opportune times,” he says.

Primetime doesn’t get the same vote of confi dence. KSHB was a distant third in prime in November—its 5.5 household rating was less than half of KCTV’s. Sunday Night Football was a star, but it appears to be a one-man team in prime. “It’s a work in progress for NBC,” says Vrabac. “Hopefully NBC has a base to build on, but we’ve got a ways to go.”

Vrabac started at KSHB when it was an independent back in 1972. One of several Scripps GMs to make a move in the last year, he previously ran sister Scripps outlet KJRH Tulsa. “I grew up in the area,” Vrabac says. “It’s exciting for me to come back.”

Fox affiliate WDAF, meanwhile, streams its news live on fox4KC.com. The station offers mobile apps for the Blackberry, iPhone and Android, and an ambitious Facebook push has yielded close to 25,000 “fans” of WDAF’s morning newscast.

The region is home to corporations including telecom giant Sprint and GPS manufacturer Garmin, and also has an auto manufacturing base. Besides the new sports facilities, the Kansas City Ballet will finally have its own home—the $38 million Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity slated to open this year in the historic Union Station Power House Building downtown.

All of the above give Kansas City residents a reason to be optimistic.

“There’s been a lot of progress,” says Totsch. “Landmark sports and cultural centers are going up, and I think that’s good for everyone.”

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.