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Market Eye: Sympathy 'Cards'

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The death of Stan Musial, the ultimate St. Louis sports icon, was a giant news event in the market last month. Stations went live with breaking news of the Cardinals star’s passing in the early evening Jan. 19 and expanded their late news coverage. Several stations aired the funeral a week later in its entirety, including a procession to Busch Stadium, for as much as five hours of continuous coverage.

“Heroes are hard to come by, and St. Louis lost one of the best,” said Lynn Beall, president and general manager of KSDK. “That’s why our coverage was so important to St. Louis; it’s knowing our community and having that connection that has made our station so successful for so many years.”

KSDK, a legacy station in DMA No. 21, is in an intense fight to maintain its primacy. NBC’s rebounding primetime helps, but CBS-aligned KMOV’s network shows have been popping for years. “We’re very strong in primetime and late news, and we’re making real progress in early-evening news,” said Mark Pimentel, who last June succeeded the retiring Allan Cohen as KMOV president and general manager.

St. Louis is a robust TV news town, with big-time competitors in Gannett’s KSDK and Belo’s KMOV and a round-the-clock news presence in KTVI-KPLR, a Fox-CW virtual duopoly owned by, respectively, Local TV and Tribune. Those stations air 10 hours of news a day, with no newscasts competing with the sister station.

“Since 2008, we’ve gone from 45 hours of local news a week to 75,” said Spencer Koch, KTVI-KPLR president/GM. “It’s definitely impacted the marketplace.”

KTVI went live with news at 4 a.m. two years ago, and KSDK and KMOV followed. The fall of 2011 saw KSDK add not only 4 a.m. news, but 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. newscasts too. Oprah Winfrey’s departure at 4 “allowed us to grow our staff, expand our local advertising inventory and, more important, provide our community with news and information at times that were not being served,” said Beall.

KSDK won the total-day household ratings race in the November sweeps and tied with KTVI in adults 25-54; the NBC affiliate also won early evenings. KTVI was first at 6-7 a.m. KMOV won primetime households and KSDK took 25-54. Late news is similar: KMOV was tops in households with a 9.2 rating/16 share, ahead of KSDK’s 8.7/15, while KSDK won the 25-54 demo race at 10 p.m.

Sinclair owns ABC affiliate KDNL. Roberts Broadcasting has MyNetworkTV affiliate WRBU, which airs The Daily Buzz in mornings. Roberts filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and may be mulling a sale. Charter Communications is the market’s primary subscription TV operator.

The stations are trying new things. KMOV has Live Well Network on its dot-two. The station has a new all-female 5 p.m. team. “It’s too early to make proclamations, but the early signs are very encouraging,” Pimentel said.

KPLR is adding local college sports, while KTVI plays up its reach across the market. The station uses DataSphere and an array of local Patch sites to cover St. Louis at a micro level. “There’s something like 90 different communities, and we want to cover all of them,” said Koch.

KTVI’s “You Paid For It” segments, focused on civic waste, continue to be a hit with consumers.

Beall is pushing a full-on multiplatform attack at KSDK, including building a substantial presence on Facebook, where the station has 208,000-plus friends. “Broadcast television has always been a passive medium,” said Beall, “but with our multiple platforms on mobile, the Web and particularly with social media, we can really be part of a conversation with our audience.”

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