Market Eye: Bay Battle Heats Up

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The San Francisco Bay Area is renowned for innovation and idea incubation, and TV stations here keep things fresh too. KGO has a new 4 p.m. news, replacing an industry icon, and an intriguing partnership with Bay Area neighbor YouTube. KPIX has a new approach to news gathering and vastly expanded reporter resources. KTVU began streaming its newscasts live on earlier this year, and KRON is running at full speed following parent Young Broadcasting’s bankruptcy exit, with 9½ hours of news per day and a new newscast in a unique slot.

“KRON is in the game right now, and we are competing in the marketplace,” says Deb McDermott, president of Young Broadcasting, which is investing in its stations as part of its reorganization. “It had its problems earlier, but we’re very competitive in numerous time periods.”

There’s never a shortage of news in San Francisco– Oakland–San Jose, but the past month has been particularly lively. Local versions of the Occupy Wall Street protests have given the newsrooms red meat, as did the deaths of a pair of local pioneers and icons in Apple cofounder Steve Jobs and Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. “It’s a passing of the torch here,” says Ron Longinotti, president and general manager at KPIX-KBCW.

Stations have also passed the torch in DMA No. 6. Bill Burton, who formerly headed up digital operations for the ABC owned group, took over KGO in May after Valari Staab jumped to run the NBC owned stations. Tom Raponi succeeded Tim McVay at KTVU in June, after McVay shifted to WSB Atlanta.

San Francisco features one of the great ratings races, with well-heeled owners fighting for the market’s savvy viewers. ABC-owned KGO easily won total-day household ratings in the May sweeps. Cox’s Fox affiliate KTVU won primetime, just ahead of KGO. KTVU won morning news, while KGO took early evenings, thanks in part to a lead-in from Oprah Winfrey last spring.

The late news race is tight, too. KTVU had the top late news in May with a 5.2 household rating/10 share at 10, while KGO and CBS-owned KPIX tied at 11 p.m. with 4.2/11. KTVU, strong in adults 25-54, led the market in revenue with $102.5 million last year, according to BIA/ Kelsey. Raponi cites a hard-hitting news brand and veteran anchor team. “Our tagline is ‘Complete Bay Area Coverage.’ It’s straightforward news—we won’t waste your time,” he says. “It’s in-depth investigative and enterprise reporting.”

Comcast is the major Bay Area subscription TV operator. NBC owns KNTV. KTVU and KPIX have duopolies in independent KICU and CW affiliate KBCW, respectively. Granite recently picked up Me-TV for its indie KOFY’s subchannel. KRON, after famously losing its NBC affiliation at the end of 2001, airs MyNetworkTV from 9-11 p.m. The station went back to its NBC roots a tiny bit by airing Peacock primetime on the 20 nights a season when KNTV airs Giants baseball games. KRON, which functions largely as an independent, debuted an 8 p.m. news in late May. Its substantial daily news haul kicks off at 4 a.m. and is generated by a team of video journalists.

General Manager Brian Greif says having two hours of network programming lets KRON go long on breaking news. “If there’s a big story, we’re able to stay on it and do more,” he says. “We can go on early and stay with it late.”

Around 23% of the market is Asian, according to BIA/ Kelsey, and about the same number claim Hispanic origin. Asian viewers have KTSF to tune into. Spanish-language offerings include Telemundo O&O KSTS, Estrella TV affiliate KTNC, Telefutura outlet KFSF and Univision’s KDTV. The latter’s local programming includes 6 and 11 p.m. Noticias 14 shows, and the live morning show Al Despertar.

Everyone is shaking up their local programming. KTVU debuted two-hour morning newscasts Saturdays and Sundays in June and has the daily strip RightThis-Minute at 9 a.m. and Big Bang Theory 6:30-7:30 p.m. KGO has partnered with YouTube to make the station’s news content stand out more on the Web video giant. KGO recently launched uFixIt, which encourages users to report potholes and other civic issues in their community. The station added 11 p.m. weekend newscasts Sept.10, and its 7Live program at 3 p.m. recently marked its fi rst year on the air. “It’s the news of the day, but it’s not a newscast,” Burton says of 7Live. “There’s a nice sophisticated layer of social media built into the broadcast.”

KPIX is now broadcasting HD from the field and, like the other CBS O&Os, is working closely with its extensive radio and digital siblings in the market. The station debuted a new news set Sept. 15 that Longinotti says represents a more chipper way to start the day. “It’s much more contemporary and much brighter,” he says, “and it offers a lot more opportunity for [talent] interaction.”

California’s economy continues to sputter, but with the nation’s brightest flocking to Silicon Valley to try and be the next Steve Jobs, the Bay Area looks a little better. “Things are on their way back and the outlook is promising,” says Longinotti. “There are definitely more positive signs in the economic circles.”

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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.