Market Eye: Tight Traffic in L.A.

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KABC, like Kobe Bryant and Spago, has been the toast of Los Angeles for eons. But the race has undeniably tightened. KCBS’ primetime is booming, and KNBC is enjoying a rich investment from its parent; both were factorsin the closest November sweeps since 1990. Steve Mauldin, president and general manager of KCBS-KCAL, says just 20,000 viewers separated KCBS from KABC at 11 p.m. in November—down from 130,000 a year earlier.

“We’re on their heels,” Mauldin says.

Arnie Kleiner, president and general manager of KABC, acknowledges the tight race, but points out that KCBS was seamless from the end of primetime into late news in November—meaning, no commercials in the transition that would drive viewers away. “We didn’t win as big as we’d like,” he says, “but no one else popped out either.”

KABC won total-day household ratings in November, along with morning, early evening and late news—the latter with a 3.58 household rating/9 share, ahead of KCBS’s 3.48/9. KNBC, which also was seamless on four or five nights in November, notes Steve Carlston, president and general manager, was runner-up at 11 p.m. in the 25-54 demographic and is showing growth in its news ratings. “For years, news wasn’t a valuable commodity,” Carlston says. “Under Comcast, it is. I think that’s what the difference is.”

But KABC has a big head start, with deep tenure in key positions, lively community outreach and diverse ranks. “We don’t have an all-white anchor team,” Kleiner says. “We don’t have an all-anything anchor team. If everybody in the news department looked like me, it wouldn’t be a very good newscast.”

As befits the No. 2 market, network-owned stations dominate. Besides owned-and-operated KABC, KCBS and KNBC, there’s Fox-owned KTTV and KCOP. NBC also owns Telemundo-aligned KVEA. CBS holds independent KCAL. Tribune has CW affiliate KTLA. Univision owns both KMEX and TeleFutura station KFTR. Other Spanish-language options include Liberman’s KRCA and new MundoFox affiliate KWHY. Time Warner Cable is the dominant subscription-TV operator.

The stations are innovating. KNBC now goes by NBC4You, a brand that suggests bringing value to viewers, advertisers and its own staffers, Carlston says. Comcast’s support is evident in KNBC splitting from a helicopter share to put its own chopper in the air. “We’re up every morning—we use it liberally,” Carlston says. “A helicopter can’t serve three masters.”

KNBC also has the most Facebook friends of any station in the country, nearing 500,000, Carlston says. Todd Mokhtari, formerly the news director at KIRO Seattle, took over the KNBC newsroom this past summer, succeeding Vickie Burns. The station added a halfhour to its noon news in August and will expand its weekend early-evening programs, too.

KCBS and KCAL do a combined 11½ hours of news a day, and have pushed into weekend-morning news. The addition of KCAL stalwarts Pat Harvey and Jackie Johnson to the KCBS anchor team has helped boost the ratings. “We’ve got a very good team that’s in touch with the marketplace,” Mauldin says. “They listen to the marketplace. Viewers can tell when you’re not.”

News director Scott Diener followed Mauldin to Los Angeles from their previous posts at KTVT-KTXA Dallas.

KTTV has also made talent changes, with Maria Sansone and Julie Chang moving from New York to be on Good Day LA. “There’s a great energy on the show,” says Kevin Hale, vice president and general manager. “It’s heading the way we want.”

KTTV introduced the local show Studio 11 at 5 p.m. in fall 2011. It was also the lone station to do a test run of TMZ offshoot TMZ Live before Fox recently bought the behind-the-scenes show for the entire station group. Sister KCOP debuted a 7 p.m. news this past fall. “It’s starting to gain a foothold,” Hale says. “We feel good about that.”

For its part, KMEX marked a major milestone in September 2012 as it turned 50. The station played up its rich heritage throughout the year, both on-air and in the community. KMEX, which airs a two-hour morning news, along with half-hours at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., has an extraordinary bond with the Spanish-speaking community, says Alberto Mier y Teran, senior VP and general manager. “We continue to inform and empower the market,” he says, mentioning topic-driven monthly phone banks hosted at the station. “It’s why the loyalty factor is so strong.”

Univision will move its local radio properties into KMEX’s building in the first quarter. “It will create more of an opportunity for us to work together on news, community relations and sales,” Mier y Teran says.

Despite the tight race, it’s hard to deny KABC’s eminence in Los Angeles. The station cemented its community ties by helping fill buses around the market with more than 500,000 holiday gifts for the needy. Line up the top department heads around the country, “and I’ll pick mine every time,” Kleiner says. “I really do think we have a world-class team.”

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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, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.