Market Eye: Keeping Minnesota 'Nice' in Any Kind of Weather | @BCMikeMalone

While the Twin Cities are known for their brutal winters, weather is a yearround story in Minneapolis-St. Paul. In fact, Earth Day events in April were canceleddue to snow. When mild temperatures finally come around, people make the most of them—and TV viewers stay tuned to see how much precious fair weather is in store. “It’s a great town to get outside,” says Brien Kennedy, WCCO VP and general manager. “People are just fanatical when it’s nice out.”

To better cover the rapidly changing weather, as well as the geographically expansive market, WCCO has tapped a small army of weather enthusiasts to send in their dispatches. KARE tackles severe storms with the WeatherNation network on its subchannel; that multicast was cocreated by Paul Douglas, who spent many years in the market as meteorologist at KARE and WCCO. “We can use the secondary channel as a relief valve when there’s a weather situation,” says John Remes, KARE president and general manager.

Minneapolis-St. Paul does not feature the big-city crime that often dominates local airtime in other markets. The well-established phrase “Minnesota Nice” describes the unfailingly polite nature of residents; newscasts often play up the positive, such as extreme acts of volunteerism.

There’s a hot race between CBS-owned WCCO and Gannett’s KARE, which airs NBC programming. WCCO won total-day ratings in the May sweeps, along with early evening news, and breezed to a 10 p.m. win in households, its 9.1 rating/18 share ahead of KARE’s 6.9/14. But KARE took the 25-54 contest at 10 handily with a 5.1/15. KARE won 6 a.m., while Hubbard Broadcastingowned ABC affiliate KSTP took 4:30 and 5 a.m.

Fox owns KMSP and the MyNetwork station WFTC. Hubbard owns independent KSTC. Sinclair has CW affiliate WUCW. Comcast is the Twin Cities’ primary subscription TV operator.

Kennedy says WCCO thrives on its legacy status, CBS’ strong primetime, and an “evolved” local content strategy that makes good use of multiple platforms, including a sister radio station. WCCO added Saturday-morning news last year and expanded Sunday mornings in the fall. “We’ve become more relevant to viewers, especially in weather,” Kennedy says. “We’re not just informing them, but connecting with the community.”

KARE is big in the 25-54 demo, and Remes is encouraged by NBC’s strides in primetime, which includes strong summer performer America’s Got Talent. “We look forward to a new season of continued improvement,” he says.

The station’s news crews push an advocacy role, says Remes. “People look to us to look out for the community,” he says. “People want to see somebody making a difference on a daily basis.”

KMSP, with 49 hours of local news per week, is attempting to carve a niche with a robust point of view in its local programming. Carol Rueppel, VP and general manager, refers to the “original formats” behind lively talkers at 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. “It’s not the same traditional format people have been watching for 30 years,” she says. “People already know the headlines of the day, so we need to add perspective to the news.”

A partnership between Fox and Clear Channel sees the local TV and radio personalities turn up on each other’s air. Tapping radio guy Tony Fly, sister WFTC on July 22 debuts the nightly one-hour entertainment show On the Fly at 11 p.m. KMSP traffic reporter Kelsey Soby also appears on that program.

WFTC won the bidding for an NFL Minnesota Vikings game that will air on NFL Network nationally Nov. 7, giving the junior station significant promotional might for a night. “That’s going to be an exciting programming event for WFTC,” says Rueppel.

KSTP has been adding local content too. The station had a late local news sandwiched around Nightline at 10:30, but when ABC moved Jimmy Kimmel Live to 11, it gave KSTP the chance to build an hour block from 10- 11. “Both are working out well,” says Robert Hubbard, group president of television and KSTP-KSTC GM.

Hubbard Broadcasting pops up in the rumor mill now and then as a target for acquisition in these M&A-mad times. “We are not for sale,” declares Hubbard.

BIA/Kelsey says DMA No. 15 is No. 19 in terms of revenue; the general managers say business is up a tick or two year to date. The Twin Cities feature several corporations with global reach, including Target, Cargill and United HealthCare. The famed Mall of America, with 4.3 miles of storefront footage, is adding 5.6 million more square feet of retail, hospitality and entertainment. “It must not be big enough,” quips Remes.

Remes is, like much of the snow sports-savvy market, looking forward to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

Coming from West Palm Beach, Fla., those winters have been sobering for Kennedy, but he has developed a taste for ice fishing—and Twin Cities TV. “It’s a good, competitive market with very good broadcasters,” he says. “We all work hard to serve the viewers.”

Next: Greensboro-High Point, N.C.

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.