"The Market Is Ripe for the Taking"

KNXV Channel 15 station manager Michael Kronley wrote this "Competitive Profile" of the television news market for his general manager, Brad Nilsen, in October. New Times obtained the memo, which is excerpted here.

KTVK Channel 3: This station is backing off its marketing line of "Arizona's Family Station," but continues to provide a good mix of daily news coverage with very soft features and anchor-involved talk. The news product here still has many fans--our research (Valerie Crane) rated KTVK number two in popularity. Their strength may be greatest earlier in the day, with "Good Morning Arizona" (6-9 a.m.) and "Good Evening Arizona" (5-6:30 p.m.). Its new primetime lineup plus our changes have hurt them at 10 p.m. Interestingly, the station has started to adopt some of the elements that we are now backing away from, including some use of "funky" graphics, faster editing and shooting styles, and the slogan, "the station with more stuff." Its new cable venture with Cox Cable, "Arizona News Channel," will give it an even higher profile, and give it added benefits. . . . This station has well-known, highly promoted, long-term anchors, involved in the community, a big plus. KTVK will be a serious player for some time. They should not be underrated, and will probably do whatever it takes to keep their news product close to the top.

KPHO Channel 5: This CBS affiliate seems to be foundering without a commitment to news. The market won't take the product seriously until the station does a 10 p.m. news, instead of the current 5 minutes followed by Seinfeld. A new news director (September) may signal a change, but so far there is no action. KPHO is not as aggressive on stories, and its shows lack direction. Their Hispanic Female anchor is a plus, but little else is memorable. Their consultant (Magid) is unhappy with their news commitment. It will take considerable effort for KPHO to make a serious dent.

KSAZ Channel 10: This FOX affiliate (soon to be a FOX O&O [owned and operated]) is very aggressive. This fall the station went heavily FOX, with a new set, graphics package, and main anchors, trying hard to finally give up its old CBS ghost. They've been successful in changing, but less successful in growing an audience. The station's morning block loses badly to KTVK, while its 10 p.m. show usually loses audience from its 9 p.m. lead-in newscast. This station, however, will be a long-term player. I envision them trying different formats and ideas for a good while, which will help us as we become more traditional, and stick with a philosophy.

KPNX Channel 12: The NBC affiliate is the market leader both in households and demos. The strong Thursday night lead-in almost guarantees them a victory for the 10 p.m. M-F show. The station is long on anchor talk, viewer involvement (call-ins), soft features, and personality. It also does a good job of covering daily news, and has started an I-Team to compete with us. Their anchors have great tenure, and are well-known, promoted, and involved in the community. Channel 12's product is typical Gannett. Interestingly, the huge opportunity the station gained with the Olympics hasn't helped. We can compete with them at 10 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Realistically, this station is one of our two main competitors, and must be taken seriously.

And from Kronley's assessment of his own station, KNXV Channel 15:
Where we've been: News 15 started out with two missions: to be different from all other newscasts, a reflection of its FOX roots, and not to waste viewers' time, a reaction to the large amount of anchor talk on the other news stations. The first mission resulted in ultra-high story counts, highlighted by many video streams, a photographic and editing style similar to MTV, and a graphic and promotional style that quite frankly was difficult for both viewers and many outside news professionals to understand, from an on-air or conceptual basis. The second mission resulted in a commitment to investigative reporting, a slogan, "No Chit Chat, More News," and an internal belief that the station was providing, for Phoenix, a radically different content alternative. The newscast was quickly accepted by other journalists, with KNXV garnering many awards. Public acceptance started out well, with a 5 demo rating, but remained flat for two years.

Where we are going: News 15 must continue to move to the center, while retaining its edge. Content still needs to be king, and we plan to establish health and education beat reporters. We will retain the investigative edge. Features and light material need to be eliminated from the newscast. We plan to establish West Valley and East Valley Mobile Bureaus, helping to cover the high-growth areas of the market. We will establish tight video regulations, and tighten our writing. Teasing is important, and new efforts are underway to shore this up. Graphics remain a challenge, but we have budgeted for a makeover in 1997, using an outside company. Promotionally, we are advancing. One new writer/producer is on-board, another is being sought.

Talentwise, we are still searching for that lead male anchor. It is not an easy hire . . .

When we move into the new building, we should be able to do either or both a live 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. show.

The "Chit Chat" issue is a challenge. Research shows "no chit chat" to be an unimportant promotional element, and that the market is divided on its benefit. While the station favors continuing the philosophy, we wonder if we have been branded "No Chit Chat" forever, and need to move aggressively to adopt a marketing line that the market will accept and feel has value to it.

What it means: In two years we have become a serious new player in this market. At 10 p.m. we are on the verge of being a solid No. 2. Eliminating our weaknesses, concentrating on our strengths, and hoping for a break in NBCs stranglehold on primetime, leaves us with a clear shot at winning the late news. Our 5 and 6 p.m. shows could benefit from this, and propel us into a position to challenge for the lead in those time periods. Our noon show is growing, and this week alone has won two days. Mornings will be a larger challenge over the established shows.

We should have a clear shot to win at 10 p.m. in the 1997-98 season, and with 2-3 years after that be a regular contender to win at 5 & 6. The market is ripe for the taking.

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Tony Ortega
Contact: Tony Ortega