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Raycom-Belo PartnershipIn Arizona Starts 'Now'

Later this week, a dozen newsroom denizens from Belo’s KMSB Tucson will have relocated to the building belonging to Raycom rival KOLD, while 18 or so sales professionals representing KMSB will follow in about a month.

Shared services agreements, such as the new one in Tucson, are not uncommon to rival TV stations, but the one between Belo and Raycom in Arizona is nevertheless unique. All of the stations involved—Belo’s Fox- MyNetworkTV duopoly KMSBKTTU; Raycom’s CBS affiliate KOLD; and a batch of subchannels (Belo has This TV and Estrella TV in Tucson, while KOLD has Me-TV)—will end up offering local hi-def in the next few weeks. Tucson gets a morning newscast on KMSB. All of the stations will operate under a joint Website.

But what struck a number of industry watchers when the deal was announced last November is the peculiar notion of Belo outsourcing news. Belo is, by most accounts, a journalism-first outfit that prides itself on leading local content. “With a rich heritage of journalistic achievement,” reads the mission statement atop, “Belo is the leading news and information source in the many local communities it serves.”

While a mission statement can say just about anything, Belo backs it up with a big batch of awards that its stations, including KING Seattle and WFAA Dallas, win for their rock-solid investigative work. “It’s very much out of character,” one industry insider, who asked not to be named, says of the Tucson arrangement. “Belo dedicates themselves to local news.”

KMSB is very much an outlier in the Belo portfolio, notes Peter Diaz, Belo president of media operations. The group features a large number of ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, as well as independents, but KMSB is its lone Fox station. A few years back, KMSB’s 9 p.m. news was a mix of content from Phoenix sister KTVK, 120 miles to the northwest, and a partnership with Tucson’s KVOA, before KMSB “cut the cord,” in Diaz’s words, and went it alone.

Yet the station never established itself as a strong news presence. When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot last year, Diaz offers as an example, “there was no way we could compete with the resources we had in Tucson.”

Take a Belo station not performing at Belo-esque levels, add in Arizona’s brutal economic picture, and a shared services agreement (SSA) looked increasingly beneficial. “With the economy in Tucson and the cost of doing big news, it made sense for us to do an SSA with Raycom,” says Diaz. “We’re able to expand newscasts in a way we would not be able to without an SSA.”

Indeed, Fox 11 Tucson Now Daybreak debuts this week, adding two hours a day to Tucson’s morning news mix. Both KMSB and KOLD are getting new branding with a common denominator: KOLD will be KOLD News 13 Now, and KMSB will go with Fox 11 Tucson Now, along with the tagline “It’s About Time.” Both outfits will be linked by the word “Now,” and a joint Website in (Raycom’s SSA in Honolulu goes by Hawaii News Now.) The joint set’s backdrop is easily shifted from one station’s branding to the other.

Belo won’t say how many people lost jobs as a result of the agreement. Initial reports said it was between 20 and 50, though Diaz says “a good many” were hired at KOLD or elsewhere in the Belo group. Debbie Bush, vice president and general manager at KOLD, says the stations have come together smoothly. “Working with Belo has been wonderful,” Bush says. “The transition has been beautiful.”

Journal Broadcast Group’s KGUN leads Tucson in TV revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, with KOLD and Cordillera’s KVOA not far behind.

The Southwest’s economic ills, driven by woeful home foreclosure rates, are well-documented. Tucson dropped from No. 67 to No. 70 in the most recent Nielsen DMA rankings, losing almost 20,000 television households.

But Bush says things are brightening. Rep. Giffords resigned last week, opening up what will surely be a highly contested Congressional race. Jon Kyl’s Senate seat also is up for grabs, and Arizona’s GOP primary on Feb. 28 will kick cash to the news stations too.

“We had a tough year last year,” Bush says. “But we’re actually seeing some glimmers. It’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

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