Market Eye: Central Valley Prays for Rain

The trickle-down theory is a popular economic concept, but it’s a literal one—and a vital one—in Fresno-Visalia. Agriculture is the dominant industry in California’s so-called Central Valley, and when it’s drought conditions— such as the historic one the area’s farmers are suffering through—it affects just about everyone in the region.

“It’s been an awful water year—there’s not been near the rain expected,” says Dan Adams, president and general manager at KFSN. “Farmers are really concerned about water allocation. It’s going to be challenging when we see how all of that trickles down to the broader economy.”

TV stations provide a critical service in the region, updating those involved in agriculture on weather conditions and getting out in the community to raise funds and support worthwhile causes such as those benefiting underprivileged children. ABC-owned KFSN and Univision-owned KFTV make an extraordinary effort to be out and about, and both cite community involvement as key to the stations’ success. “Our anchors are part of the fabric of the community,” says Jose Elgorriaga, the Fresno-reared general manager at KFTV and sister UniMás station KTFF and Univision’s regional VP of ad sales. “People really relate to them.”

BIA/Kelsey has Fresno-Visalia at No. 69 in revenue, a dismal showing for DMA No. 55. The general managers say they see improvement, but until there’s more precipitation, the economy will sputter. The year 2013 was the driest in Fresno history. President Obama was in town in February, pledging $100 million in aid to local farmers.

“The economy is definitely in recovery mode,” believes Elgorriaga. “We’re seeing it going in the right direction.”

KFSN is the market leader, but KFTV is, in the words of one market veteran, a “monster” that battles its English-language competitors for many of the same advertisers, with favorable results. The market is 54.3% Hispanic, says BIA/Kelsey, and is the No. 14 Hispanic DMA nationally. KFTV is live and local with news 5-7 a.m. and 6 and 11 p.m. Elgorriaga calls the morning show “infotainment with a little bit of news,” and compares host Lupita Lomeli to Oprah Winfrey.

KFSN is a force on all platforms. The station won total-day household ratings in the February sweeps and took the key news races despite getting thrashed in primetime as viewers flocked to Olympics coverage on KSEE. KFSN posted a 4.4 household rating/ 20 share at 11 p.m., while KSEE and KFTV put up 2.9/13 scores. KFTV took the adults 25-54 title at 11 p.m., a tenth of a point ahead of KFSN.

Fox affiliate KMPH had a robust 4.9/12 at 10 p.m. KMPH and CW sister KFRE shifted from Titan Broadcast to Sinclair Broadcast Group last year as part of a $115.4 million deal. The pair offers This TV and Spanish-language Estrella TV on its subchannels.

Nexstar is the other new entrant in the market. It picked up KSEE last year from Granite Broadcasting for $26.5 million and grabbed KGPE from Newport Television a year before. Both stations were put under one roof, with a joint website, yourcentralvalley. com, which features local business search engine KSEE and KGPE dropped their 6 p.m. weekend newscasts, says Adams, meaning KFSN is the only English-language option at that time. During the week, KFSN also airs news in the less-traditional slots of 4 and 7 p.m.

Comcast is the Central Valley’s primary subscription TV operator, and NBC owns Telemundo station KNSO. Trans-America Broadcasting president Gerardo Borrego recently transferred his MyNetworkTV affiliate KAIL to his own Tel-America North Corp. Station officials did not return a call for comment.

A big advantage to staying No. 1, says Adams, is being No. 1 to start with. Having the leading TV operation in town means the top talent comes to the station, and stays. It means syndicators approach KFSN first with the classiest product. “Most [viewers] want to be here at the end of the day—they check with us first,” Adams says. “By virtue of being No. 1, you create some advantages.”

While KFSN is seeking to dominate the mobile sphere with several slick apps, it may just be the face-to-face initiatives, such as Kids Day, (benefitting Children’s Hospital Central California) and Women’s Conference (which focuses on empowering women) that foster the most goodwill in Fresno- Visalia. “A lot of stations talk about their commitment to the community, but this station really backs it up,” says David Lee, KFSN creative services and public affairs director. “We take the responsibilities of being market leader very seriously.”


KFSN is a powerhouse on the air, and is well along on plans to similarly conquer its competitors on all platforms. The station offers three distinct local mobile apps; besides ABC’s own Watch ABC live stream, KFSN features separate ones for news, weather and even an alarm clock application providing headlines, weather, traffic and a wake-up call. “Those give us a really strong presence digitally,” says Dan Adams, president and GM.

Combined page views grew 43% from February ’12 to February ’13, says Adams, and traffic on the station site rivals that of the Fresno Bee daily paper’s site. The growth reflects a mindset shift at the station. “We’re making sure we continue to follow where the audience is going, and deliver content where they are,” Adams says. “We deliver it the way they want to receive it, at the time they want to receive it and on the device they want to receive it.”

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.