Market Eye: Headed for Rapid Recovery

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To live in the Cedar Rapids region of Iowa is to live with an almost constant threat of severe weather, such as the tornado that rolled through the market June 12, when stations including KCRG and KWWL pre-empted primetime for live coverage. The market is marking the fifth anniversary of the devastating flood of 2008, when multiple rivers, including the Cedar River, crested their banks and caused massive damage and despair.

Local residents are hoping for an uneventful summer, weather-wise. “It’s a signature market for severe weather,” says Jim McKernan, VP and general manager of KWWL and a Dubuque native. “Flooding is a major issue and always has been.”

Cedar Rapids-Waterloo-Iowa City-Dubuque is DMA No. 90, down one spot from the previous year’s Nielsen rankings. Atypical of many Midwestern markets, it outperforms its market size in revenue, at No. 87, according to BIA/Kelsey.

Gazette Co.’s KCRG is the ABC affiliate and a news power. The station turns 60 later this year, and is getting stronger. It went fully HD in January 2012, has a well-developed multicast strategy and features the market’s only 4:30 a.m. newscast. “The commitment to informing the early riser was another dedication point for our staffers,” says Shannon Booth, director of products at KCRG. (The station does not have a general manager.)

KCRG won the total-day ratings contest in February, and had a clean sweep again in May. That included a 12 household rating/30 share at 10 p.m., ahead of KWWL’s 8/20.

Quincy Newspapers-owned KWWL is a worthy performer too, particularly in its Waterloo backyard. McKernan, formerly a senior VP at Bonten Media, jumped at the chance to come home to work in February 2012. The station offers Me-TV and This TV on its multicast tier, and introduced a public affairs show, The Steele Report, in February. McKernan likens host Ron Steele to Johnny Wood, the legendary TV personality he knew back in the Tennessee/ Virginia Tri-Cities DMA; McKernan calls Steele “the dean of the market’s anchors.”

Operating in a diary market, McKernan is waiting for May sweeps results to see how Steele Report is faring, but he says the Nielsens are not the only metric for success. “Sometimes it’s not so much ratings but the kind of people watching and the influence you have,” he says.

KWWL and KCRG each have four meteorologists. KCRG booked an estimated $19.4 million in revenue last year, according to BIA/Kelsey, while KWWL had $13.9 million. Sinclair owns CBS affiliate KGAN. The station has a services agreement with Fox affiliate KFXA, owned by Second Generation TV. KM Communications owns CW affiliate KWKB. Northern Iowa’s primary subscription TV operator is Mediacom.

Live, Local and Much-Liked

KCRG has a unique connection with viewers. Based in Cedar Rapids, the station has bureaus in Iowa City and Dubuque, boasts 56,000 Facebook friends (to KWWL’s 30,000) and owns a trio of LiveU video-over-cellular backpacks to help its reporters chase stories in all corners of the market. Booth is particularly pumped about what the new technology represents for newsgathering. “We were so fired up when we came back from [the National Association of Broadcasters show in April],” she says, “after being there with 95,000 of our best broadcast friends.”

The local economy is solid. The market is investing in wind energy, and the unemployment level is enviable. With open Senate and Congress seats, political spending will come.

The stations this month produced special programming about the ’08 disaster. KGAN on June 16 aired Rising Above the Waters: The Corridor Five Years Later. led with The Flood of 2008: What If It Happens Again? in mid-June.

“There’s a lot to offer here—a great lifestyle, family-centric, a common-sense approach to doing things,” says McKernan. “But it is one of those markets where your meteorologists have to be vigilant.”

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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.