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The St. Louis News

It's been a busy few weeks in St. Louis. In mid-September, Tribune and Local TV announced they were co-locating their St. Louis stations in KPLR's facility, with KTVI boss Spencer Koch running the joint operation. The market got its first taste of Nielsen's Local People Meters on Oct. 2; St. Louis is scheduled to officially switch to the new metric—which some other markets have criticized—in January.

And, of course, vice-presidential hopefuls Sen. Joseph Biden and Gov. Sarah Palin turned up for their historic debate at Washington University on Oct. 2. KMOV had a live Web chat during the bout, and KSDK held “BLOGfest”—a watching party at a downtown bar showing the action on a 10-foot screen, with attendees live-blogging the candidates' hits and misses. Longtime news leader KSDK, with its multimedia “Information Center,” felt it should own such a story.

“Here at KSDK, we built a strategic plan of owning breaking news and the big story,” said KSDK President/General Manager Lynn Beall via e-mail, featuring “important content elements where an audience would consciously and purposely seek out our product.”

Gannett's KSDK remains the station to beat. It grabbed $70.2 million in 2007, according to BIA Financial, ahead of KMOV's $50.1 million and KTVI's $38.1 million. An NBC affiliate, KSDK won total day household ratings in May, and is a power at 5 and 6 p.m. But Belo's CBS outlet KMOV took late news with a 14.2 rating/21 share, a little better than KSDK's 12.6/19.

Stations here are eager to dethrone the king. Primetime leader KMOV kicked off Great Day St. Louis last month, a live 10 a.m. program that it also streams on a dedicated site. “The response has been really good from viewers and advertisers,” says a spokesperson. “It's very different from anything in the market, and we think it's a big part of our future.”

Sinclair's ABC affiliate KDNL, which does not air news, added Deal or No Deal to its morning mix. Roberts Broadcasting's MyNetworkTV outlet WRBU has taken its lumps since losing its UPN affiliation, but VP/General Manager Bonni Burns says focus groups have helped the station find its place in the local landscape. “We once had that great African-American niche,” says Burns, who hopes Tyler Perry's House of Payne will bring back viewers. “We're trying to get back to that more diverse appeal.”

Everyone is curious about the Tribune/Local operation, which involves CW and Fox outlets. Former KPLR general manager Bill Lanesey left to run WXIX Cincinnati; Koch did not return calls for comment, but said this when the partnership was announced: “By joining with KPLR, we can combine the best of both stations in newsgathering and production. If the people of St. Louis want to watch news, they will find it on Channel 2 [KTVI] or Channel 11 [KPLR]. We are working to our audience's schedule, not ours.”

The No. 21 DMA brought in $207.2 million last year, according to BIA. The local economy remains soft, but station managers say segments like telecommunications and health care are vibrant. “Most stations here are feeling it, but there's a lot of opportunity out there for new business development,” Burns says. “You have to make your own success.”