ON THE COVER North Coast Journal banner

More news, more often!
Stations battle for ratings, revenue

by   BOB DORAN

(Photos above, top: Jane Rodgers & Jim Moritz of KIEM channel 3
Middle: Dave Silver brand of channel 6
Bottom: Cheryl Broom & Brandon Dunn of KAEF Channel 23.)


THERE'S A WAR GOING ON -- A BATTLE FOR VIEWERS.

Over the last two years local television affiliates have been pumping revenue into their news departments in an effort to lure viewers away from competitors --at least to hold their ground.

"Every station looks for a way to define itself, to make itself important to the viewer in relationship to the overall choices out there," says Bob Browning, station manager of KIEM, the NBC affiliate. "If you're smart you try to find that local niche. It's the only thing that distinguishes your station from anything else that they can flip on in the cable realm. Most any station today is interested in establishing a strong local presence -- and the easiest way to do that is through news."

Jeanne Buheit, general manager of CBS-affiliate KVIQ, sees local news as a primary focus of the station's individuality.


[photo of Jeanne Buheit] Jeanne Buheit, general manager of CBS-affiliate KVIQ


"If all we did was run network and syndicated programming there would be no point in being a local affiliate. What makes us stand apart is that we are providing local information. That's how local broadcasters will stay in business."

Browning took over as general manager of KIEM two years ago and became news director six months later. His 30 years of experience in television broadcasting began after receiving his journalism degree from Sam Houston University in Huntsville, Texas, "where Dan Rather went to school."

KIEM is owned by the Memphis-based media Pollack-Belz, LLC. The company owns one other television station, KLAX in Alexandria, La., and 10 radio stations including KCRE in Crescent City. Since Pollack bought the station the staff of KIEM's news department has doubled. An increase in equipment allocation includes the purchase of a remote broadcast truck.

Around the same time Browning was taking over management of KIEM, Buheit was doing the same at KVIQ. She came with the Ackerley Group which purchased the station in January 1999. For Buheit the new job was a homecoming. Born and raised in Eureka, Buheit attended Humboldt State University before finishing her education at Chico State and spending over 12 years working for an Ackerley station in Salinas.

Chairman and CEO Barry Ackerley founded the company 25 years ago beginning with a small regional outdoor media company. In layman's terms: He owned and operated billboards.

Today the group is involved in what it calls "multiple media industry segments," including the sixth largest outdoor media company in the nation, five radio stations and two basketball teams: Seattle Supersonics and Seattle Storm.

The television division includes 17 network affiliated and independent television stations clustered in two regions: seven in central New York state, seven in smaller markets in California with the remainder in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Buheit says the purchase of KVIQ has meant major changes at the station, mostly focused on the news department.

"Since the purchase of the station they have invested over $1 million in capital and equipment with the directions that we are here to be a news provider. We've gone from providing five hours a week of news programming to 22 hours a week."

The station's news department has grown to 20, outnumbering the cross-town rivals at KIEM where 15 people produce news programming. (By comparison, the Times-Standard has 21 on its editorial staff.)


[photo of Bob Browning] Bob Browning, station manager of NBC-affiliate KIEM


 

Playing by `the book'

It may have a larger staff and a lot of new equipment, but KVIQ is still playing catch up. According to the all-important Nielsen ratings, a lot more people watch the news on Channel 3. In fact in the February book KIEM had the highest rating and share of any market in California for early news.

Browning states flatly, "Nobody dominates their market like we dominate this market."

Browning concedes that Eureka is a small market --very small market.

"Out of (Nielsen's) 210 `designated markets' in the United States ranked based on population, ours is 189th," he said.

"Sure they're ahead," Buheit concedes. "But they're not nearly as far ahead as they were a year ago. The big picture is that their shares are dropping and ours are rising."

"If you look at the 6 o'clock news, they do a 32 (share) and we do an 8, that seems like a pretty big disparity, although a year ago they were doing a 43 and we were doing a 7."

In Nielsen-speak the rating is the percentage of the population in the "designated market area" (DMA) watching a given show. The share is the percentage of "households using television," or how many of the sets that are turned on are watching a specific program. The local DMA includes Humboldt and Del Norte counties, where out of 60,400 households 56,650 have televisions with 71 percent of those televisions hooked up via cable.

The Neilsen ratings are issued four times a year in what is known in the trade as "the book." The most recent was issued last week based on statistics from May's "sweeps" month.

In the new book KIEM's 6 p.m. news has a 15 rating and a 32 share; KVIQ has a 3 and an 8. (The Simpsons falls in between them with a 6 and 14 share.)

The spread is similar at 5 p.m. when KIEM has a 7 rating with a 22 share and KVIQ has a 2 rating with a 7 share. KAEF comes in third in the news game. The 5:30 newscast received a 2 rating and 4 share up against the other two major networks' national news.

 

`Doing something right'

Buheit said, "Competition brings up the level of the product," and she has her own spin on the figures.

"When you take all of the news we produce in a given week and count up the amount of rating points, we get 69 and they get 81 in the key demographic for advertisers, adults 25-54. Since I've been here we haven't had one book where I've been disappointed. We're doing something right."

As each new book comes out, the ratings are translated into rates as in advertising rates. More viewers equal higher rates. How much higher? More than three times as much: The rate card shows KIEM charges as high as $250 for a 30 second spot on the 6 o'clock news while a 30-second spot on KVIQ goes for $75. That rate drops when advertisers sign up for longer contracts or for package deals.

The reason Buheit likes to add up ratings -- the cumulative hours of news broadcast -- is because Channel 6 broadcasts more news per week. Both stations have local news shows at 5 p.m. and again at 6 p.m. KVIQ adds another half hour of news at 6:30 p.m. -- essentially a repeat of the previous half hour -- an hour program each day at 6 a.m. leading into the CBS Early Show and an half-hour of news at noon.

Browning does not think much of the competition's attempt at interpreting the statistics.

"There are people who will tell you that more is always better," he said. "I'm not sure that's true. If you're not going to bring new information, if all you're going to do is recycle what you had in the last show you did or the night before, what's the purpose?

"Obviously we're doing something right," he said, echoing Buheit's sentiments, "because people are endorsing our efforts with their viewership. That's really what we're out there for, to draw people to us, to have them depend upon us as their source of information."

 

A new face

While News Channel 3 touts itself as "The Spirit of the North Coast," and the Action News 6 team presents "Coverage You Can Count On," at the ABC affiliate, KAEF, the offer is "A New Face for News."

The new face is Channel 23's News Director Cheryl Broom. She came on board in April after the station's news director and assistant manager, Leslie Lollich, moved over to run the expanding news team at KVIQ.

Broom is originally from the San Diego area. Her last job was as a producer at an ABC affiliate in Redding, owned by the same company as KAEF. California Broadcasting Inc. is a subsidiary of LAMCO Corp. that owns eight other television stations around the country.


[photo of Cheryl Broom] Channel 23's news director Cheryl Broom took over in April
when news director Leslie Lollich moved to KVIQ.


"Our news department is pretty small," said Broom. "We have myself, a full-time sports (reporter), one full-time reporter, Shannon Garcia, and two reporters who work a lot more than part time but only get paid for part time. It would be nice to get another reporter or some new equipment, but we're hanging on."

KAEF news runs a half hour at 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. At 11 p.m. it runs three minutes of news and a two-minute weather report that leads into a Dating Game-style program called Blind Date. "I actually think Blind Date beats out the other local channels," Broom said with a laugh.

(In fact Blind Date's 9 share edges out KVIQ's "Eleven at 11" news share of 8, but KIEM is still on top with a 30 share.)

When Broom moved here she said she was surprised at how much interest the community shows in local current events.

"When I go get my haircut everybody in the salon is talking about (Eureka City Manager) Harvey Rose. When I lived in San Diego I had no idea who my city manager was. People here like their news, they want to know what's going on."

 

Familiar faces, entry level market

Broom is enjoying her new position, but if she had her choice she says she would like to work in news in San Diego to be closer to her family. And there are financial incentives. San Diego is one of the top 20 markets and Broom points out, "The amount you get paid increases as you move up from market to market."

Since this is the 189th ranked market, those with tendencies toward upward mobility often move on quickly. Lollich, who has worked here for 17 years and has taught journalism, remembers many who "wanted to get out as soon as they could put a résumé tape together."

"There will always be people who, for whatever reasons -- advancing their own careers or whatever -- people will come and go in the more visible positions. That's just the way the game is played," said Browning.

"This will always be an entry -level market where we introduce promising young people to the world of television, and journalism in general, and there are a lot of responsibilities that go along with that. The tenure that these people spend with us in this market will form habits, opinions and character that will last for the rest of their careers."


[photo of Leslie Lollich] KVIQ News Director Leslie Lollich.


Familiar faces, brand loyalty

The downside of the turnover is that around the time the viewers get used to an on-air news reporter, she may disappear. There are several exceptions.

"We have key people in the news department who are not leaving," said Buheit. "Dave Silverbrand is not leaving, DeDe Stirnaman isn't leaving."

"And I'm not going anywhere" Lollich adds. She lives in Eureka with her husband and two sons.

And at least a few of the familiar faces at KIEM are here for the long haul, according to Browning.

"Jane Rogers is not interested in moving. She settled her family here. ... Of course, Jim Bernard's the same; he's been here long term and will be here a long time. And there are others. ..."

Bernard, the popular KIEM weatherman, has recently taken on co-host duties with Jane Rogers on the 5 p.m. show. A few years back KVIQ, under different ownership, made the mistake of laying him off. KIEM snapped him up and many viewers switched channels.

The loyalty of all those "weather fans" means more viewers for his station, Browning said, emphasizing the fact that familiar faces are important.

"The information is the information. There are degrees of how well the information is gathered and there are degrees about how well it is presented. Beyond that it's a personality business. Every station has its personality. If it didn't, we'd all hire zombies to read the newscast."

Another tool for increasing public visibility is through community involvement. Describing her plans for KVIQ, Buheit said she has set three goals for her station -- to excel in news, in sales service and in community service.


[photo of Jim Bernard] (LEFT) KIEM Channel 3 weatherman Jim Bernard


"The community service component is not something taken lightly," she said. "We donate air time to help support community efforts, and the people who work here are involved in community organizations."

Both channels 6 and 3 are listed as sponsors of highly visible public events like Blues by the Bay and the Relay for Life. Often the ads traded for sponsorship offer an opportunity to reinforce a link with the news department.

KIEM also has a symbiotic trade relationship with the Times-Standard. Besides exchanging ads the station teases the paper's headlines in the evening news and the paper plugs Jim Bernard's nightly reports on its weather page.

Some might find this strange since the two media are competing in the same market for the same ad revenue. But Browning says he doesn't want people to get all of their news from the tube.


[photo of Adam Gerber] Weatherman Adam Gerber of KVIQ Channel 6


"Television is not the absolute medium. There are things that we can't do that print does extremely well. There are things that we can do extremely well that print can no longer approach -- things like the immediacy -- transporting you to the scene with sight, sound, motion and color. As good as they are, papers can't do that.

"But what papers can do is give you voluminous detail and background information on any given subject. We can bring it to the light of day, pique your interest and give you the short rap on it. But if you really want to know the ins and outs of an issue you need to go to whatever print you respect and get that side of the story, too.

"I feel just as bad for the person who gets all of his news from television as I do for the guy who does not watch TV and gets all of his news from the newspaper. Both of them are severely deprived because the print guy is always late. He may have the story but he's 48 hours late with it. And the guy who depends strictly on television gets the highlights and doesn't get real depth of the story."


Reporter Rick Lathan or KVIQ 6 at digital video editor.[photo of Rick Lathan]

[photo of channel 6 news team] The Channel 6 news team gets ready to go on air.

Rhett Bice in the Channel 3 production room.[photo of channel 3 producation room]

 


IN THE NEWS  |  CALENDAR

Comments? E-mail the Journal: ncjour@northcoast.com

North Coast Journal banner

© Copyright 2000, North Coast Journal, Inc.