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Quiet but Changing

Call KARE-TV Minneapolis on a busy day, and you hear the recorded voice of popular anchorman Paul Magers. Call the station in a few weeks, though, and you won't hear him. He'll soon be on his way to KCBS-TV in Los Angeles.

There has been an abundance of change of late in the normally quiet Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., market. During the summer, Ed Piette, veteran general manager of Hubbard's NBC affiliate, KSTP-TV, jumped ship to take the reins at cross-town rival WCCO-TV (Viacom, CBS). He brought in a new operations manager from KSTP-TV, then dumped News Director Maria Rietan and imported Jeff Kiernan from WTMJ-TV Milwaukee; Tom Bourassa has just been named general sales manager. KSTP-TV still hasn't named Piette's replacement.

Fox shook up the market early last year, when it acquired UPN affiliate KMSP(TV) and Fox affiliate WFTC(TV) and then switched their affiliations. "We went through so much change at our stations back then, but, in the past year, we've looked downright stable," said Carol Rueppel, general manager of both stations.

Hubbard's KSTC-TV last month became the market's first commercial station to go to a full time high-definition broadcast in a joint venture with Dallas-based HDNet.

Ad revenues, which loped along at a 1% annual growth between 1997 and 2002, are expected to increase a bit over 3% this year and surge more than 7% in 2004, according to BIA estimates.

The sprawling, rather isolated market hosts nine full-power VHF stations, several of which don't show up in the Nielsen ratings, and an abundance of independent UHF and public stations. Cable penetration, at 56%, is one of the lowest in the nation. "Although we are market No. 13 or 14 in size, we're about No. 198 in terms of actual cable hookups," Piette said.

Duopolies abound. In addition to Fox's KMSP/WFTC combo, there's Hubbard's KSTP-TV/KSTC-TV. Both Viacom and Hubbard own and operate satellite network affiliates in the fringes of the DMA. Viacom's KCCW-TV Walker, Minn., lies an even 200 miles from downtown Minneapolis.