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News model for the future?

When a Big Three affiliate in a top-25 market dropped its news last fall, the impact was felt well beyond the boundaries of the St. Louis DMA. When Sinclair Broadcast Group decided to close the KDNO-TV news department—following years of ownership and leadership changes, suspended newscasts in the face of entrenched competition, and an overall decline in advertising—observers wondered whether they were seeing a model for the future, in which only the top one or two newscasts can survive.

In the hometown of Anheuser-Busch, KMOV(TV) execs see St. Louis as a two-Clydesdale race, between their Belo-owned CBS affiliate and Gannett NBC affil KSDK(TV). "We are among the strongest CBS affiliates in the country," says Cohen, a 21-year veteran of the market, "and they're one of the strongest NBC affiliates."

Lynne Beall, general manager of market leader KSDK, agrees generally but notes that KSDK is consistently in the lead and Fox's KTVI(TV) a sometimes contender for second.

TV itself registers high with the citizenry, Beall notes. "One of the most interesting things about St. Louis is the strength of the television market. We have high TV viewership here and lower newspaper readership. People get more of their information from television."

All of the St. Louis market was hit hard by the 2001 downturn. Advertising revenue dropped by more than 20%, according to local estimates, after soaring in the years immediately before. According to BIA Financial, the market brought in $211.4 million in 1998, about $6 million more in '99 and nearly $20 million on top of that in 2000, a year with summer Olympics and state and national elections. Actually, though, if the political dollars are factored out, the market declined 8%, say local execs.

With another U.S. Senate race, the Winter Olympics and the Rams in the Super Bowl, however, 2002 is already off to a better year.