Skip to main content

Market Eye: Swinging to a Profit

Click here to read more Market Eye articles

Swing state status can come and go. Pennsylvania, for one, isn’t the presidential battleground it used to be. Iowa, on the other hand, is adorned in purple for the foreseeable future.

The presidential spending arrived before the Iowa caucuses that mark the start of the election season in January, and it really hasn’t stopped. Local station sales execs think big when it comes to forecasting, but sometimes the spending still surprises. “We’ve not seen a signifi cant downturn in spending since the caucuses,” says Dale Woods, WHO president and general manager. “It gets bigger and bigger each month.”

Des Moines-Ames offers two very different employment cultures: one focused on banking and government, and the agricultural one that has long defi ned the region. That duality has helped DMA No. 72 hold up amidst economic downturns. Corporations with a major presence here include media giant Meredith and Wells Fargo. Station GMs like to point out the state capital’s frequent appearance in various media ‘Best of’ lists; Forbes magazine, for example, rated Des Moines No. 4 on its Best Places for Businesses and Careers.

“Someone here must have a relative at Forbes,” jokes Russ Hamilton, vice president and general manager at WOI. “They keep ranking us the best city for jobs, professionals, etc.”

Hearst Television’s KCCI has long dominated the ratings, but the May sweeps was tighter than execs at the CBS affiliate would like. KCCI won the major news races, but within-a-point contests in the morning and 6 p.m. suggest a strong WHO. The 10 p.m. race had KCCI at a 15.1 household rating/35 share and WHO at 10.1/23. KCCI doubled the ratings of WHO, an NBC affiliate, and WOI, an ABC station, in primetime.

Dave Busiek, news director at KCCI, believes Nielsen under-delivered its sample in May. “You see funny [ratings] books every now and then,” Busiek says. “This is a funny book.” (A Nielsen representative said the market’s sample met requirements for data quality, and noted that fluctuations in sample size happen.)

KCCI has thrived on enterprise reporting and well-tenured talent. “We are the breaking news station,” says Busiek. “People tend to stick around here.”

Local TV owns WHO. Citadel Communications owns WOI. Sinclair has Fox affiliate KDSM, and Pappas owns CW affiliate KCWI. Mediacom is the market’s major cable operator.

Some local stations enjoyed national plaudits in June. KCCI claimed the prestigious Murrow Award for overall excellence in markets 50- plus, while WHO got a Murrow for journalism excellence. Strong news means even more attention from the political hopefuls; Amanda Hull, KCCI general sales manager, mentions “extreme pressure on inventory” at the station.

Changes are coming. KCCI is transitioning to a paperless newsroom. WOI, which recently completed a newsroom build-out, this fall will add the syndicated Jeff Probst and Katie.

WHO main anchor John Bachman is retiring at the end of November, with weekend morning anchor and Iowa native Dan Winters moving up. “He’s demonstrated tremendous leadership and anchoring ability in the last five years,” Woods says of Winters. “And to have somebody homegrown is a wonderful asset.”

WHO has also elevated its weather strategy, launching a severe weather app and S-band radar, which improves content on its recently rebranded “Iowa’s Weather Channel” multicast. The 24-hour channel also dabbles in high school football, with live scores and commentary.

General managers offer abundant reasons why Des Moines is a fine place to live, including the business environment and friendly people. That famed heartland bonhomie may be put to the test after people have been subject to seemingly endless political ads for close to a year.

“It’s been a much more robust political situation than we anticipated,” says Woods. “Iowa is one of those magical swing states.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone