Twin Cities Tussle

Minneapolis-St. Paul may be locked in a winter freeze, but the broadcast competition is sizzling. In November sweeps, perennial champ KARE, an NBC affiliate, rode its long history as top dog to another No. 1 spot in the key newscasts among adults 25-54. But, capping off a year-long assault, CBS-owned WCCO—fueled by strong prime time and syndicated fare—claimed the best household ratings for early-evening and late news.

Both are standouts nationally. Among all stations in the top 20 markets in household ratings, WCCO’s late news ranked No. 2, and KARE was a close third. (WDIV Detroit got top prize.)

The other entrants are game as well. Fox station KMSP scores strong ratings for its 9 p.m. news and produces a 10 p.m. newscast for sister UPN outlet WFTC. ABC affiliate KSTP is fourth in late news but has a storied history: It was the first station in the country to launch a 10 p.m. local newscast.

Recent shakeups could alter the landscape again. At the end of November, KARE lost lead anchor Frank Vascellaro and meteorologist Ken Barlow, and earlier this month, KMSP News Director Ted Canova left the station over reported differences with management. (KMSP management says it was “a personal decision” for Canova.)

Broadcasters in Nielsen’s 15th-largest market are vying for the attention of the market’s highly educated viewers. About half of all news viewers have college degrees, which managers say is particularly high, in part because St. Paul is the state capital and Minneapolis is home to the University of Minnesota. As a result, news can be more substantive than in other large markets: Politics, transportation and the environment are more popular than blood and gore. “'If it bleeds, it leads’ and ambulance chasing don’t play well here,” says WCCO General Manager Ed Piette.

Several stations are expanding news. In October, KMSP launched a 5 p.m. newscast. “During the day, there is news that needs to be told, and we don’t wait until 9 p.m.,” says General Manager Carol Rueppel. In November, KSTP bounced Friends for a 6:30 news. “We thought viewers were ready for a change,” says General Manager Rob Hubbard.

In March, KARE will convert its 10 a.m. light news to an infotainment show called Showcase Minnesota, where sponsors can buy segments to push their products. WCCO, stocked with syndicated fare such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune, is staying the course. “We have stable syndication and an incredibly strong CBS lineup,” says Piette. “Now we’re focusing on solidifying our position as No. 1 in news.”

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