Market Eye: Hooked on Phoenix | @BCMikeMalone

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Phoenix and other Sun Belt markets bore the brunt of the recession, but that’s behind them. Home sales were up nearly 13% in May compared to May 2012, while unemployment slid from 7.4% to 6.8%. The attributes that spurred population growth in Phoenix for years—the proverbial “dry heat,” the Southwest’s open spaces—remain. “We’re not there yet, but the economy feels quite a bit better compared to even a year ago,” says Ed Munson, KPHO VP and general manager.

Phoenix features a bruising news battle, but the stations know when to, as one GM puts it, “put our weapons down.” DMA No. 13 was devastated by the loss of 19 wildfire specialists June 30; the stations pooled coverage for what John Misner, KPNX president and general manager, called a “muted presence” at the memorial. KPNX aired the Prescott fireworks show and firefighter tribute live in primetime on July 4. “I never doubted that our company [Gannett] would support the investment,” says Misner.

Gannett is acquiring Belo. Jack Sander will run the Belo station pair in Phoenix, independent of Gannett’s NBC affiliate KPNX, which has its own partner in its sibling Arizona Republic newspaper. KPNX is using more still photography in its newscasts, which Misner says makes for a “compelling” look.

Among English-language stations, KSAZ and KNXV tied in the morning news household ratings race in the May sweeps, while KSAZ took the 25-54 demo. KSAZ won 5 p.m. and KNXV won 6. KSAZ was tops in 9 p.m. news, while KPNX grabbed 10 p.m. with a 3.7 HH rating/8 share, just ahead of KPHO’s 3.6. KPNX’s Misner called the July sweeps a “dream.”

Fox-owned KSAZ brought in an estimated $82.5 million in revenue last year, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of KPNX’s $62.5 million. KSAZ is a test bed for daytime shows, including Bethenny last year and The Real and Kris Jenner’s new talker Kris more recently. “I like to think we’re one of the go-to stations in the group,” says Mark Rodman, KSAZ VP and GM. “A lot of different [shows] gain traction here.”

KSAZ thrives on a tenured news talent crew. “They’re known in the market, they’re credible and people are comfortable with them,” says Rodman.

Fox also has MyNetworkTV station KUTP. Cox is the primary subscription TV offering. The Spanish-language stations include Telemundo O&O KTAZ and Univision’s KTVWKFPH pair; Univision is integrating its radio properties into the TV facility in Phoenix. Airing thriving 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, KTVW plays up its “empowerment initiatives,” which include education and health, in its local programming. “Those are the key to what we do,” says Roberto Yanez, KTVWKFPH VP/GM. “They’re the driving force behind how we out-deliver the market.”

Univision Phoenix on Aug. 3 hosted Es El Momento (It’s the Moment), an education fair that attracted 5,000 visitors.

Stations are shaping their fall schedules. KPNX is expanding Arizona Midday to 90 minutes. KPHO will have Steve Harvey at 4 p.m.

Whether it’s immigration, gun control or other hot issues, Phoenix frequently ends up in the center of the national debate. Says Rodman: “We’re always in the thick of it.”

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.