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Long Live the KING

In Seattle, rain still falls and KING still reigns. As it has done for more than 10 years, Belo Corp.’s NBC affiliate leads the Seattle-Tacoma market, grabbing the total-day crown and winning morning, early-evening and late news during the November sweeps. In the affluent, tech-savvy market—Nielsen’s 14th largest—KING routinely scores the highest ratings of any NBC affiliate in the country for several primetime programs.

Station President/General Manager Ray Heacox credits the combination of sophisticated programming and a sophisticated audience. “Statistically,” he says, “Seattle and Washington, D.C., always rate as the most educated cities.”

Stations are vying for those wealthy and educated viewers in a market that pulled in a projected $316.5 million last year, according to BIA Financial—up from $290.4 million in 2005. KING generated $83.2 million in 2005, the last year for which such numbers are available, while Cox’s CBS outlet KIRO and Fisher Communications’ ABC affiliate KOMO tallied around $58 million each.

Also in the hunt are KONG, an independent that shares programming with sister station KING; CBS-owned CW affiliate KSTW; Tribune Broadcasting duopoly KCPQ (Fox) and KMYQ (MyNetworkTV); and Clear Channel indie KVOS. Comcast is the market’s largest cable provider.

Station managers say the market, home to Redmond, Wash.-based software giant Microsoft, has regained its footing since the dotcom bust in 2000. Local corporations Boeing and Starbucks are also hiring, and the foreign-automotive segment has boosted advertising. “Advertising is fairly healthy,” says Steve Gahler, KSTW VP/station manager. “Last year, we had a lot of political advertising, and this year should be flat from last year.”

With technology central to the area’s economy, the stations are big on innovation. At KOMO—whose headquarters stands in for exterior shots of Seattle Grace hospital in the ABC hit Grey’s Anatomy—General Manager Jim Clayton says streaming the newscasts live online has done wonders for site traffic, doubling the number of hits to an “unbelievable” 19 million in January.

KIRO VP/General Manager Eric Lerner calls the Web “one of our most important priorities.” Its Webcasts on—covering topics including news, entertainment, sports and weather—have driven traffic substantially since their launch late last year.

At KSTW, which does not do news, the Website is a lively mix of entertainment news, nightlife options, contests and user videos. “It’s more interactive, says Gahler. “We’re younger-skewing, which is where we see the opportunity.”

Tribune’s duopoly, meanwhile, offers music channel The Tube in its digital space. “People say it’s like MTV in the good old days,” says VP/General Manager Pam Pearson.

While Tribune Co. is considering selling its stations, its broadcasting division remains an active buyer of syndicated fare. Pearson says her stations will debut comedies Two and a Half Men and Family Guy and Warner Bros.’ new magazine show TMZ, among others, come fall.

Although KING may rule, rival stations aren’t content to kneel before the throne. “KING is a good station,” says KOMO’s Clayton. “But we’re here to knock their block off.”

Next: Wichita-Hutchinson, Kan.