In L.A. Two Is Much Better Than One

Cutthroat. That's the only word to describe the competition in the sprawling Los Angeles TV market, where covering freeway chases was invented and perfected.

Aside from New York, L.A. is the most lucrative TV market in the U.S. And when it comes to dollars, Fox leads the pack.

The single-station revenue leader in Los Angeles in 2003 was Fox's KTTV, with an estimated $251 million. That gave it $1 million more than NBC's KNBC, according to BIA Financial Network. KABC was a close third with an estimated $247 million, followed distantly by CBS's KCBS, which took in an estimated $150 million, according to BIA. But that's not nearly the entire story.

Fox's second station, KCOP, a UPN affiliate, took in an additional estimated $103 million. Viacom's second station, KCAL, an independent, took in an estimated $110 million. NBC's two Telemundo stations in the market jointly added another estimated $92 million.

So, in terms of aggregate, the News Corp.-Fox duopoly had market-leading estimated total revenue of $354 million in Los Angeles in 2003. The NBC-Telemundo combination took in estimated total revenue of $342 million. And the Viacom-CBS duopoly had estimated total revenue of $260 million in the market. That may change with the recent arrival of Nielsen's local people meters in Los Angeles, which may be one reason Fox has been so critical of the new research tool.

Last April, Fox brought Kevin Hale, a native Angelino, over from one duopoly in Phoenix to another in Los Angeles. Hale was named vice president and general manager of both KTTV and KCOP, as well as head of Fox's Regional Sports Net West sales. He inherited an already integrated duopoly operation where the tough culling and combining had been done by his predecessor.

The one-hour 10 p.m. newscast at KTTV and the half-hour 11 p.m. newscast at KCOP, once staffed individually, are located in the same studio facility. The two newscasts might have their own show-specific managers and directors, but they often use the same lighting, camera people and other technicians, who often scramble from show to show and set to set.

On-camera people, too, now have more than one function and turn up on more than one station's newscast. KTTV's veteran sportscaster, Rick Garcia, also co-anchors the news on KCOP, while his KCOP co-anchor, Lauren Sanchez, also turns up to do entertainment news on KTTV.

From time to time, on-air reporters doing live shots in the field for both stations simply turn the "flag" on their microphones around to showcase the appropriate station logo.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom behind the scenes, Hale maintains that one mike holder/two newscasts is something he tries to avoid. The stations try to keep the two newscasts as separate as possible. "Most stories we go out on, there's two crews [for KTTV and one for KCOP.] There are some instances where we will share video," he says. "But for the most part on a local story, especially if it's a big local story, we'll send two specific crews. We really try, and prefer, to have two separate crews."

KTTV's one-hour newscast affords more time for investigative and enterprise stories—and consideration is being given to "stepping up" the station's investigative unit, Hale says. On the other hand, KCOP's half-hour—up against the Big Three 11 p.m. newscasts—takes a "different tack. We try to do a news that has a younger appeal, with more video, more graphics, a faster pace."

The two newscasts target different audiences as well, he says. "KTTV targets 18-49 adults and adults 25-54, whereas KCOP will target adults 18-49 but also will go for the younger 18-34. So it's a nice complement, I think."

Hale, who's now preparing for his third L.A. sweeps, came up the ranks through sales, working at various local stations and rep firms. He regards one of his managerial strengths as his understanding of sales: "being able to work with the sales department on inventory issues and programming issues and rates and whatnot." Another is his programming instinct, he says, "again just from all my years in television," particularly from his 1993-1996 stint managing The Nashville Network, as the network that has morphed into Spike was then called. That was when he "got deeper into programming and deeper into the production of programming," he says. "I have a pretty good feeling for looking at ratings and analyzing audience flow and trying to translate that into product and what shows might do better in what time periods."

Hale proved that he knew where to find additional advertising dollars and ratings points in Phoenix, a former competitor in the Arizona market says. "That's why [Fox] brought him up" to L.A.

Replaying the KTTV evening news in late fringe—seven nights a week at 1 a.m.—is one innovation that Hale brought with him from Arizona. "It gives our newscast, and our news talent, more exposure in the market," he says. The news repeat is "saleable" to advertisers who previously cut off their buys at midnight, he adds, and the fractional rating point it represents has become particularly valuable since July, when the local people meter was introduced in the market and "rating points became very dear."

Another Phoenix import is KTTV's new promo tagline—"Just You Watch"—that Hale describes as a "call to action to viewers. Depending on how you read it, it has kind of an interesting edge to it," he says. The comparable promo line at KCOP, a holdover from the previous administration, is "Get It On."

When it comes to demo-minded advertisers, those messages seem to be resonating.