Market Eye: Local News Nirvana

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The rain that falls in Seattle is as much a part of the local landscape as the towering Space Needle, but what was hurtling down in the days before Thanksgiving was downright crazy.Torrential rain lashed the region, causing flooding and widespread power outages. The weather put a damper on an otherwise sunny time for the Seattle-Tacoma TV stations.

Seattle lost its NBA team to Oklahoma City in 2008, but there is talk of a new franchise coming in, with a site selected for a new arena. The market’s rich batch of tech firms is growing. Microsoft’s gaming division is hot, and is afire as well—buying up real estate and hiring by the busload.

The TV ad market is a bit soft, but station execs are bullish on 2013. “It’s really good to be in Seattle right now,” says Janene Drafs, vice president and general manager at KOMO and its sister radio properties in the market.

The news race in DMA No. 12 is close. Belo’s KING, an NBC affiliate, benefitted from what Ray Heacox, KING-KONG president and general manager, calls the “trifecta”—Super Bowl, Olympics and political spending. KING had seen its primacy slip in recent years, but the big events bolstered it to big 2012 wins. It won the major household races in October, including total-day ratings, a.m. and early evening news, and 11 p.m. news with a 3.8 household rating/ 10 share—ahead of KOMO and KIRO, tied at 3.4/9. KIRO, Cox’s CBS affiliate, won primetime, while KING won adults 25-54 in prime.

The 10 p.m. battle is a good one: Independent KONG won the household race in October, while Tribune’s KCPQ won adults 25-54.

KING was the big revenue earner in 2011, according to BIA/Kelsey, its estimated $64.2 million topping KIRO’s $59 million.

KIRO has a new general manager in Jay O’Connor—who succeeded Eric Lerner in June—and news director in Bob Jordan. KOMO staffers are still dealing with the death last month of news anchor Joel Connable, of a diabetic seizure at only 39.

Drafs, a 25-year veteran of KOMO, started as GM Sept. 1 following Jim Clayton’s retirement. Fisher has a big and varied broadcast group in its home market that includes the ABC affiliate, Univision station KUNS and radio stations featuring music, news and talk. Drafs is pushing synergy. “We always want to make sure we are utilizing all of our assets,” she says. “It’s something we are uniquely able to do in the marketplace.”

Speaking a little Spanish is a bonus for KOMO reporters, so they can offer up sound bites for KUNS from the field.

Belo’s got big-time resources in Seattle, too. Besides KING and KONG, it has the cable news outfit NWCN, which goes live starting at 4 a.m. each day. Tribune has Fox affiliate KCPQ and MyNetworkTV-aligned KZJO; the latter goes by JOEtv and features animation and news in prime, and MyNet fare starting at midnight. CBS owns CW affiliate KSTW, which adds Mike & Molly in 2014. OTA Broadcasting acquired Me-TV affiliate KVOS in March. Comcast is the major cable operator in the market.

KVOS turns 60 next year. Based in Bellingham, it lined up carriage with DirecTV in July. Carol LaFever, vice president of operations, says OTA recently finished a digital hub in Seattle for KVOS and sister KFFV, an Azteca America affiliate. “It’s been a busy six months to a year,” she says.

KING’s special TV events were “spectacular,” Heacox says, but the absence of them in 2013 will level the Seattle playing field. “There’s real quality competition here,” Drafs says. “It makes for a good marketplace.”

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.