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Market Eye: Watershed Moment

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As residents of Fresno–Visalia, Calif., saluted the close of 2011, they were thankful that one of the region’s many entrenched problems was addressed by the heavy rainfall that soaked the typically drought-stricken area. It was manna from heaven for the so-called Central Valley’s abundant agricultural community, and it was grist for the local news mill, too.

“It was one of the wettest years in the history of the Central Valley, and it generated a lot of weather coverage,” says Michael Carr, news director at KFSN. “All the rain may have caused short-term problems for people, but it was of great benefit for farmers.”

Yet the Central Valley’s economic ills continue. The housing market is woeful, and unemployment in the region is north of 15%—inflated somewhat by the seasonal nature of farming. Political leaders are attempting to diversify the local economy, and jobless rates are down year over year. But the problems remain deep-seated.

“Fresno has the highest unemployment rate in California, and California has the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” says Charles Williams, KAIL general manager and owner and CEO of parent Trans-America Broadcasting. “We are at ground zero.” (It may be of little consolation that Bureau of Labor statistics show that Nevada had a higher unemployment rate than California in October, the most recent month data is available for.)

ABC-owned KFSN is a power in DMA No. 55, a Nielsen diary market. KFSN’s estimated $21.7 million in 2010 revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, bested Titan Broadcasting’s Fox affiliate KMPH’s $16 million. KFSN was its usual monster in the November sweeps, winning total day ratings comfortably, grabbing the morning and evening news crowns and winning the 11 p.m. race with a 4.6 household rating/22 share. (Fresno–Visalia is an early-to-bed market, as one might expect from an agricultural region.)

Primetime winner KMPH puts up strong numbers with its 10 p.m. newscast, showing a 7.9 rating/20 share in November. Univision’s KFTV is a Spanish-language power in the 10 p.m. news race in Fresno.

KFSN keeps upping its game. The station is fully HD from the field, and it replaced Oprah Winfrey with a 4 p.m. newscast on Sept. 12. “It’s going very well,” says Dan Adams, president and general manager at KFSN. “Research seems to be indicating that the 4 p.m. [news] is very well received by the marketplace.”

Comcast is the major subscription TV operator in Fresno–Visalia. Other broadcast outlets include Titan’s CW affiliate KFRE, Granite’s NBC-aligned KSEE, High Plains Broadcasting’s CBS outlet KGPE and Trans-America’s MyNetworkTV affiliate KAIL. In addition to KFTV, Univision owns TeleFutura station KTFF and a trio of radio assets. Over 51% of the market claims Hispanic origin; KFTV reaches them as they wake with the local morning show Arriba Valle Central.

Stations are rolling out new offerings. KMPH has The Big Bang Theory at 6-7 p.m. and will likely bring back its daily political show, Cal Vote 2012, when the political scene starts to heat up Sept. 1. (KMPH also produced a daily political show, which it syndicated around the state in 2010: KMPH_Fights_For_Pol_Position_In_California.php.)

Many of the stations’ new offerings are centered around sports. Last fall, KGPE began to “hyphenate” news on Sunday nights, in the words of VP/general manager Linda Danna, with 30 minutes for news and 30 for sports. “It’s the perfect lineup with CBS Sports,” Danna says.

KAIL picked up WAC and ACC college football and basketball, including some Fresno State contests, to augment a lineup of syndicated shows and MyNet fare. Williams says it makes for must-watch TV. “Let’s face it—sports programming is DVR-proof,” he says.

KSEE also tapped local Fresno State sports—airing The Bulldog Insider, focused on the school’s teams— on Sunday nights after NBC’s massive Sunday Night Football. The show was expanded to an hour this past season. KSEE president/general manager Matthew Rosenfeld credits owner Granite for the station’s new studio and set, and video journalist strategy. “The company has invested heavily in the station the last couple of years,” he says.

For its part, KFRE offers Thursday Night Showdown, a slate of 10 high school football games airing in hidef. Season two recently wrapped, with new graphics and onscreen statistics, and three more games than in season one. “We’re real proud of what we did,” says Jack Peck, KFRE vice president and general manager.

It’s a tall order trying to catch KFSN. GM Adams says the station thrives on blanketing the entire market with the help of bureaus, including reporters in Visalia and Merced and the state capital, Sacramento. “We’re the only ones with bureaus in those key areas,” Adams says. “That enables us to cover late-breaking news.”

KFSN’s new 4 p.m. news features anchors Graciela Moreno and Christine Park and interactive elements that Kristie Gonzales, creative services director, says strengthen the bond with viewers. “People give live feedback through social networking,” Gonzales says. “It’s a twist, we incorporate this into the basics of the show.”

Fresno TV chiefs remain hopeful that the frightening unemployment rate will continue to subside. “It’s California— there are a lot of people here,” says Peck. “When the economy is moving along, it can be pretty amazing.”

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