Market Eye: A River Runs Through It

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The Davenport/Rock Island-Moline television market, known as the Quad Cities, offers the best of both worlds, according to station chiefs there. (Bettendorf, Iowa, is officially the fourth of the Quad Cities, while several others, including East Moline, are part of the region.) It has the picturesque farmland one associates with the breadbasket of America, as well as classy museums, a symphony orchestra and other cosmopolitan offerings.

Ken Freedman, KWQC VP and general manager, describes his reaction to arriving in the market as, “Wow—I can’t believe all these amazing things exist here, smack dab in the middle of the country.”

KWQC, an NBC affiliate owned by Young Broadcasting, is a monster. The Davenport-based station thrives on a relentless local strategy. “A high percentage [of residents] see the world through the lens as we present it,” Freedman says. “The community relies on us for news and sports and weather; it’s a significant responsibility for the station.”

KWQC won all the major ratings races in the November sweeps, including 10 p.m. news with a 12.2 household rating/28 share, ahead of WQAD’s 8/19. Owing to both NBC’s rebounding primetime shows and KWQC’s sign-on-to-sign-off strength, its 7.7/14 rating in primetime bested CBS af! liate WHBF’s 7.3/13.

KWQC’s average total-day household rating for the past three sweeps was 4.9/20, ahead of WQAD’s 2.8/11.

Local TV owns ABC affiliate WQAD. Citadel Communications owns WHBF. Grant Communications has a Fox-CW duopoly in KLJB and KGCW. Mediacom is the primary subscription-TV operator, while Comcast has a substantial number of subscribers too.

WHBF is playing catch-up. Marshall Porter, senior VP and general manager, admits with some sheepishness that the station employed tape in its studio as recently as late 2011, but is fully hi-def now. WHBF is expecting to soon introduce an HD weather system, and Porter believes it was the first station in the market to offer HD commercials. “We’ve made quite a leap,” he says.

WHBF added a two-hour morning newscast in fall 2011, led by anchor Meredith Dennis, formerly with KWQC. “We are competitive from that standpoint,” says Porter. “Clearly, we are in the game.”

Jim Kizer took the reins at WQAD in December, coming from advertising/sales outfit NRS Media; he previously ran seven of the former Federal Broadcasting stations. Kizer says he was drawn to the opportunity to work with Local TV and a set of leaders he has admired. Kizer notes there’s a lot of room for “growth and improvement” at WQAD. In November, the Rock Island-based station shifted the syndicated Ellen from 3 to 4 p.m. “There’s nice improvement there,” Kizer says.

KWQC’s local attack is formidable. Paula Sands Live, featuring fashion, health and “what’s happening this weekend” from a local icon, celebrated its 30th year on the air in 2012. Host Sands’ relationship with viewers is a close one; she has not shied from sharing details of her struggles with cancer. The show leads into a 4 p.m. news; Freedman notes that Paula Sands beat Dr. Oz at 3 in November, while the 4 p.m. news out-rated Ellen, 5.1 to 3.7 in households. It all sets up KWQC’s early evenings quite nicely.

Starting this month, the station has a local presence in a new time slot, taking over KLJB’s 9 p.m. news production, which used to come out of WQAD. The station added five staffers in the process. “It’s got a different feel, a different tempo,” says Freedman. “I’m hearing good things in the community—they seem to like the feel and energy we brought to that.”

The Quad Cities market, bisected by the Mississippi River, is home to John Deere and Alcoa and military base Rock Island Arsenal. Agriculture is a major industry in the region. “If you go 15 minutes away from the TV stations, you’re out in farmland,” says Porter.

While more than four cities exist in the DMA, the commercial stations are licensed to Davenport, Rock Island and Moline, which are the three most populated cities.

The Quad Cities’ proximity to other urban centers, including Chicago and Des Moines, makes it a trucking and transportation hub as well. There are jobs to be had, the TV execs say. “People who are willing to work hard and are hungry for business will find it,” says Kizer.

While Nielsen ranks Davenport/Rock Island-Moline as its No. 99 DMA, BIA/Kelsey has it as No. 93 in revenue. As be! ts a market in a state that kicks off the national election season, spending from the candidates and Super PACs last year was outlandish. “Political exceeded expectations and imaginations,” says Porter.

Stations are playing with newer platforms to extend their brands. KWQC has the 24/7 Weather Channel on its dot-two and, fittingly, on cable channel 247. WQAD is trying Big 12 basketball games on its dot-three. WHBF has a new mobile partnership with Syncbak and subbed Live Well Network for the vintage hits digi-net RTV. “I thought it was great programming [on RTV], but the advertisers just did not step up,” says Porter. “Live Well has taken off for us.”

KWQC says it has almost tripled its Facebook fans in the past year, going from 20,000 to 55,000-plus. The station appears to have no trouble making friends. “We have the most recognized and respected news team in the market,” says Freedman. “They’ve been together a long time, and the community trusts and relies on them.”

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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.