San Fran's daze of confusion

One week ago, Jay Leno welcomed KNTV(TV) San Francisco to the NBC family. He didn't make a big deal out of it; it was your basic one-line welcome. And it was made even less auspicious when a New Year's Eve reveler in his studio audience yelled something just as Leno said it.

From that humble start, though, KNTV made relatively big ratings gains its first three days as an NBC affiliate. It cracked a 1 rating on a full-day basis and moved from a lowly sixth place in the market to third, in a tie with KRON-TV.

What a difference three days, and a network affiliation, make. KNTV's sign-on-to-sign-off household share climbed six points by its third day as a NBC station vs. the previous week.

And for KRON-TV, which gave up the NBC brand, the same three days appeared to mark the end of its ratings leadership in the market.

From Jan. 1 to Jan. 3, its first three days as an independent, KRON-TV dropped from a full-day household average of a 4.3/11 to a 2.5/8, according to the Nielsen ratings. That dropped it from first in the market (in a tie with KGO-TV) to tied for third with KNTV and behind KGO-TV and KPIX-TV, the ABC and CBS outlets, respectively.

For the same three-day period in the previous week, KRON-TV was the clear-cut winner each day while KNTV didn't do better than sixth place and a 0.8 rating.

The affiliation switch culminated more than two years of intrigue that began when Chronicle Broadcasting put KRON-TV up for sale and attracted the attention of the entire broadcasting industry.

Young Broadcasting outbid NBC for KRON-TV and eventually paid about $750 million for the privilege. Without the NBC affiliation, one Wall Street analyst says, KRON-TV is worth perhaps $400 million as a solo indie but perhaps $475 million as part of a duopoly.

After talks between Young and NBC broke off a few weeks ago, NBC agreed to buy KNTV from Granite for $230 million.

That was a switch, too. Granite had earlier agreed to pay NBC $360 million over 10 years for the right to the NBC affiliation (much to the dismay of NBC affiliates everywhere) after Young refused NBC's demand for $10 million in annual reverse compensation.

But Granite's deteriorating financial situation compelled NBC to buy KNTV outright.

After the first few days with their new identities, executives at both KNTV and KRON-TV insisted they had reason to cheer.

Both Paul "Dino" Dinovitz, KRON-TV general manager, and Bob Franklin, KNTV general manager, said their stations' efforts had exceeded expectations early in the new game.

"The market is very confused right now," Dinovitz said. "Our local news is the strength of this station. The brand is so strong," he said, and that had held up for KRON-TV, particularly in mornings and evenings.

"We're responsible for 24 hours a day," Dinovitz said. Parts, he acknowledged, could be sold for infomercials, "so we focus on areas where we can really do something."

To that end, Dinovitz noted the success of KRON-TV's Frasier
double-run, which pulled a 7.2/12 and 5.2/9 Wednesday, tying CBS and beating an NBC West Wing
rerun. "Hey," he noted of his syndicated entry, "we're in reruns, too."

Dinovitz feels his station has at least three strong syndicated entries in Frasier, Entertainment Tonight
and Judge Judy
and will be adding Oprah protégé Dr. Phil
in the fall.

"Let's be realistic," said KRON-TV Programming Director Pat Patton. "We know we're not going to win prime time anymore. But we want to put on alternative programming that's competitive."

A harsh review by San Francisco Chronicle
TV critic Tim Goodman of KRON-TV's first full day noted that carrying KTLA(TV) Los Angeles' feed of the Rose Parade might have added to viewer confusion. KTLA repeatedly displayed its own bug and referred to its affiliate-for-a-day as K-ron, rather than its traditional pronunciation, Kron.

Franklin disagreed with Dinovitz that the market was confused. He found it "sophisticated and intelligent. They figured this out so quickly. They found Tom Brokaw, our prime, Leno and Conan. We anticipated that the Olympics [next month] would be our second launch. But, by that time, viewing habits and patterns will be solidified."

That may not be possible for some viewers: The switch lost KNTV about 200,000 over-the-air viewers who are prevented by the hilly terrain from receiving its signal.

Knowledgeable observers agreed that the first few days of the first week—particularly with the continuation of holiday programming and lead-ins—hardly prophesized the ratings future.

But a look at last Wednesday's local Nielsens show the problems and the opportunities for stations in the realigned San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose DMA.

Not surprisingly, Law and Order
and West Wing, typical Wednesday-night winners on KRON-TV, won on KNTV, albeit with lower numbers. KRON-TV's news—historically a winner at 11 p.m. in its NBC days—rose from its relatively low-rated lead-in, Inside Edition, while KNTV's dropped from its Law and Order
lead-in. Still, at least for a while in San Francisco, for must-see, many viewers will say they first have to check their listings.