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Population Escalation

Population growth in the Sacramento, Calif., market is double the national average, which means more business for stations to fight for. “The market is growing, and viewers are shifting,” says Bruno Cohen, general manager for CBS-owned KOVR and UPN outlet KMAX.

All six major English-language stations and Univision-owned KUVS earn solid ratings with local news. The longtime leader is Hearst-Arygle's NBC outlet KCRA, which also produces a 10 p.m. news for sister WB affiliate KQCA. But rivals are gaining ground. In February sweeps, KCRA won all newscasts, including late news by 2 rating points in households. But among viewers 18 to 49, only six-tenths of a point separated the late newscasts. KCRA won in 25-54, but the rest were all within about a point.

The heightened competition is driven, in part, by major changes at several stations. CBS Corp. formed the market's second duopoly last year, buying CBS outlet KOVR from Sinclair for $285 million and combining operations with KMAX. The company hired new anchor teams, including former MSNBC anchor Sam Shane, and remade sets and graphics. To improve daytime, CBS bought Dr. Phil to run on KOVR (it repeats at 7 p.m. on KMAX). Unlike most West Coast CBS affiliates, KOVR runs prime time out of pattern, carrying local news at 10 p.m. leading into Late Show With David Letterman.

The biggest change at Gannett's ABC affiliate KXTV, which goes by News 10, is the addition of longtime KCRA meteorologist Patty Souza on evening newscasts. KXTV uses its news promotional spots for 14 “News 10 Now” breaks throughout the day.

Fox affiliate KTXL is extending its strong 10 p.m. news brand into a new daypart. Last summer, it launched a hyper-local 7 a.m. newscast. “It's a work in progress,” says General Manager Audrey Farrington, “but we are devoted to the time period.”

KCRA isn't standing still. Last summer, the station moved its 6 p.m. anchors, Edie Lambert and John Alston, to the 11 p.m. news as well. The previous anchors, married couple Dave Walker and Lois Hart, continued to anchor 5 and 6:30 p.m.

KCRA's sister station, KQCA, faces big changes, too. With The WB shutting down, KQCA could sign with My Network TV or go independent (CBS-owned UPN outlet KMAX becomes a CW affiliate in September).

Broadcasters grossed $241.9 million in 2004, up from $221.3 million the year before, according to BIA Financial. KCRA led with $53.8 million. The California capital's boom means increases in political, telecommunications and local direct advertisers. “The market is unbelievably healthy,” says KXTV's General Manager Russell Postell. “I don't think there's another market as strong.”