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Market Eye: Rapid Revival

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Sundance Film Festival sleeper hit ‘Cedar Rapids’ may not equal
the buzz of Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ or Robert Altman’s ‘Nashville’,
but the movie has helped put Iowa’s second-largest city on the map. It’s something to celebrate in this vast
Midwest market, which was slammed three
years ago by a deadly tornado and floods.

Much of Cedar Rapids has not yet recovered
from 2008’s disasters, but KWWL’s morale got a
boost when the station reopened its downtown
newsroom on Jan. 15. “It had been under 9 feet
of water,” says Kim Leer, KWWL station manager.

DMA No. 88 is the rare four-city market: Cedar
Rapids, Waterloo, Iowa City and Dubuque.
KWWL, an NBC affiliate owned by Quincy
Newspapers Inc., is based in Waterloo, about
an hour north of Cedar Rapids. Market leader
KCRG, an ABC affiliate owned by SourceMedia
Group, is based in Cedar Rapids, as are Sinclair
CBS affiliate KGAN and Second Generation
TV Fox outlet KFXA. The latter two work
out of the same facility and share talent.

KCRG and Cedar Rapids newspaper The Gazette
are in adjacent buildings, with a second- floor walkway connecting them. A joint newsroom
cranks out content for broadcast, print
and online. “We have one content room feeding
all the platforms,” says Shannon Booth,
director of broadcast products at KCRG. “We
have 75 ‘content gatherers,’ and community
contributors as well.”

The strategy is working. KCRG ran the table
in last November’s sweeps, winning all major
ratings races. KCRG took late news with a 13
household rating/31 share, ahead of KWWL’s
10/23. “We’ve got a strong anchor team that
the audience can all relate to,” says Booth. “We
offer good storytelling and strong weather.”

KWWL is a close second in all key races except
prime, where the CBS affiliate was runnerup.
After the flood damage, KWWL made a
major investment in new gear, including robotic
cameras; the station offers the market’s
only local HD content. “Our switchers were so
old that they either had to go, or we had to get
out of the news business,” quips Leer.

Rounding out the market are KWKB, a
hybrid CW-MyNetworkTV affiliate owned
by KM Communications, and a small indie
owned by Waterloo TV Group. The main cable
operators are Mediacom and ImOn.

The leading stations are making good use of
their multicast options. KWWL has This TV
and RTV on its .2 and .3 channels. In addition
to second-run programs, including Oprah Winfrey
at 9 p.m. and a comedy block starting at 10
p.m., KCRG is pumping up its local offerings
on the digital tier. A new live truck means high
school sports broadcasts a few nights a week, as
well as Cedar Rapids RoughRiders hockey and
Cedar Rapids Kernels baseball come spring.

“We’re helping create awareness [about local
sports] for viewers, and making them want
to find it,” Booth says.

KWWL is also leading a campaign for viewers
to contact Dish Network and DirecTV to get the
satellite operators to pick up the extra channels.

Major employers in the market include agricultural
giant John Deere, aircraft electronics
outfit Rockwell Collins and a distribution center
for Target. The population is nearly 92% white,
according to BIA/Kelsey. Iowa is of course the
site of the caucuses that kick off the presidential
campaign every four years. The action historically
starts around June, but gets earlier every
cycle. KCRG, for one, is already detailing the
’12 election action on its site.

Greater Cedar Rapids is slowly recovering
after horrific disasters. “We came out of the
historic flood and hit the downturn in 2009,”
says KCRG’s Booth. “But things came back in
2010, and they look good in 2011.”

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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.