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Market Eye: Sunnier Times Ahead

While San Diego is known for its seemingly perpetual 70s-and-sunny climate, even Southern California was not exempt from the cold and damp weather greeting much of the country in January. Similarly, San Diego has hardly been an economic paradise the last few years. The market was crushed by the housing crisis, some neighborhoods crippled by foreclosures.

But economic slumps pass, and even a little rain in San Diego isn't enough to dampen general managers' enthusiasm for DMA No. 28. “We were joking that it's the only part of the country where global freezing wasn't going on,” quips XETV VP/General Manager Richard Doutré Jones.

After the rough patch, real estate is stabilizing, and San Diego station executives are reporting much better advertising news of late. “Automotive is coming back slowly but surely,” says KGTV VP/General Manager Jeff Block. “Things are not fixed yet, but it's looking up.”

The San Diego community is 31% Hispanic, according to BIA/Kelsey, and the local news offerings in both English and Spanish are plentiful. “How many other markets have five 11 p.m. newscasts—not including the Spanish-language ones?” Block asks.

Midwest Television's CBS outlet KFMB is the leader in terms of ratings and revenue. The station easily won total day ratings in November, along with primetime, early evening and late news, its 4.6 household rating/10.1 share at 11 besting McGraw-Hill's ABC affiliate KGTV. The 11 p.m. slot isn't the only one packed with local news; three stations air a 10 p.m. program, too.

NBC O&O KNSD took the morning news household race, with KGTV and KFMB tying for second. Other players include Texas Television's independent KUSI, Tribune's Fox affiliate KSWB, Grupo Televisa's CW affiliate XETV and Televisora Alco's MyNetworkTV outlet XDTV. Options for Spanish-language viewers include Entravision's Telemundo-Univision duopoly, XHAS and KBNT.

KSWB grabbed the Fox affiliation from XETV in August 2008, while XETV was essentially forced to take up with KSWB's old CW affiliation. “The switch coincided with the advertising market going into free fall,” Doutré Jones says. “It's been a challenge.”

KFMB won the 2008 revenue race, according to BIA/Kelsey, its $47.98 million ahead of KNSD's $45.8 million and KGTV's $42.6 million. KFMB President/General Manager Ed Trimble credits multiple factors in the station's long run of success in San Diego, such as airing a bevy of Chargers games, community service efforts, and consistency in both the newsroom and on the schedule. KFMB airs a 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. news seven days a week, which conditions viewers to tune in at that time for local content regardless of what day it is. “That consistency builds up expectations of what will be on in that time period,” Trimble says. “We treat the weekend like the rest of the week.”

KFMB also benefits from being privately held. It's Midwest Television's only station; the misleading company name stems from when it initially owned stations in Illinois.

San Diego has a booming biotech base, some of it stemming out of the University of California-San Diego, and a considerable military presence. The area's bases, including Naval Base Point Loma and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, are expected to get substantial appropriations from the government this year. That's good news for greater San Diego. “It doesn't help you in advertising per se, but it bolsters the market's economy,” Doutré Jones says.

Some stations in the market are reluctant to invest in expanding the reach on their digital tier, as the local TV landscape is already packed. But that's not to say they're not keen on growing their news presence. XETV scrapped sports segments in its newscasts, but has added weekend mornings and may expand there.

KNSD recently expanded a partnership with investigative Website and features an editor from talking about social networking in its morning news.

KGTV added a 4:30 a.m. news in September; it also inked an editorial and marketing agreement with the SanDiego Union-Tribune newspaper, and partners with news-radio station KOGO.

San Diego stations will have to be on their game if they're to knock KFMB off its perch. Trimble says the station is motivated to stay ahead of the pack. “We never rest on our laurels,” he says. “It's hard to get to No. 1, but it's even harder to stay there.”

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