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Market Eye: Fresno Feels the Pinch

Times are tough in the Fresno-Visalia market, but folks were able to forget about their financial struggles for a bit at the recent Big Fresno Fair, which took place Oct. 7-18. ABC O&O KFSN, for one, used the event to tighten its bond with the community, airing its noon news and a trio of early evening newscasts directly from the fairgrounds each day. “It's a big draw for the fair, and it's a good opportunity for us to meet and greet viewers,” says KFSN President/General Manager Dan Adams.

Adams—and KFSN—had some community relations work to do. The previous general manager, Bob Hall, left the station following an incident that saw him disparage Fresno's giant Hispanic community while being considered for jury duty last November. Adams came from KTRK Houston in February and quickly set about speaking with residents and cleaning up whatever fallout existed. “I spent a lot of time meeting with members of the Hispanic community,” he says. “I think, by and large, the community is past that.”

The numbers indicate so. KFSN won morning, evening and 11 p.m. news in May, taking the latter with a decisive 5.7 household rating/25.3 share—topping High Plains' CBS outlet KGPE's 1.8/8.1. Adams credits the good fortune to long-tenured anchors and the station's involvement in the community. Titan Broadcasting's Fox affiliate KMPH posted a 7.4/18.2 with its 10 p.m. news and won primetime, too.

Adams isn't the only rookie GM in the No. 55 DMA. Linda Danna became KGPE's VP/GM in September 2008, Jack Peck took over KMPH and KFRE this past March, and Matt Rosenfeld shifted from upstate New York to Granite's NBC outlet KSEE in July. “I couldn't be more happy here,” Rosenfeld says. “It's a larger market with a very small-market feel, and people are very welcoming.”

Titan entered the market after acquiring KMPH and CW affiliate KFRE from Pappas in a bankruptcy sale; the deal was officially set to close Oct. 15. Other players in the market include Trans-America's MyNetworkTV affiliate KAIL and the Spanish-language stations, which include Univision outlet KFTV, Telemundo affiliate KNSO and TeleFutura station KTFF. Comcast is the main cable provider.

With agriculture as its primary economic driver, Fresno-Visalia is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise market. It is also going through a particularly dry spell—the TV business is down 25%-30% for the year, by multiple estimates. The foreclosure rate is among the nation's highest, and unemployment has climbed above 15%, mostly due to a severe water shortage that has crippled local farms. “Water is always an issue when you're the number-one agricultural community,” says KGPE's Danna.

Fresno's leaders, as well as comedian Paul Rodriguez, are petitioning the state government to send more water to the region. Managers say the situation is dire. “When you turn the water off, it's a desert,” says KAIL VP/General Manager Charles Williams.

The Hispanic community, which tallies a whopping 51% of the local population, according to BIA Financial, has felt the sting as much as any group. “The service and agriculture sectors, which are our economy, have taken a huge hit,” says KNSO General Manager Manny Cervantes. “There have been hard challenges overall.”

The new GMs are trying new things. KSEE launched a 7 p.m. news this fall, which Rosenfeld says is a “somewhat bold move” with other stations cutting back. KGPE premiered its Spot Crime microsite over the summer, which allows users to track crime in various neighborhoods around the DMA through Google Maps. KNSO unveiled new Website at the Fresno Fair, while KMPH debuted full local HD Sept. 30. “It's the only 'true' HD in the market,” says Peck, referring to hi-def footage from the field. (KFSN airs local HD from the studio.)

Mixed in with all the new faces are some veterans. The Williams family has owned KAIL since 1967, and Charles Williams takes great pride in the station being independently owned. It airs Fresno State football and basketball, and recently split with KSEE over a local marketing agreement that had seen the Granite station produce a 10 p.m. news for KAIL. “They elected to cease that relationship,” says Williams, who airs double runs of Judge Judy in its place at 10. “It's no biggie.”

Business may be way down, but station executives are seeing some upticks in spending from trade schools, the medical community and even auto—particularly the overseas manufacturers. “Amidst all the negativity,” Williams says, “there are glimmers of hope.”

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