Media: ‘Soft Launch’ Pits Fox Against KSWB and KUSI
There’s an upbeat vibe running through the new multimillion-dollar XETV news production building, home of a nightly newscast slated to start Dec. 27 on Channel 6.
Maybe it’s the Dave Matthews Band song blasting in the control room at the Kearny Mesa site. It could be the thousands of miles of cables connecting tapeless production and providing energy or the buzz of an editorial crew gearing up for its third rehearsal that day.
Long planned for what the industry calls a “soft launch,” the Fox affiliate’s program will tiptoe in during the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s and later propel a $300,000 marketing blitz in January.
The half-hour newscast will become the latest contender in San Diego’s locally focused 10 p.m. news market. KUSI Channel 51 and KSWB Channel 5/69 are currently in the same time slot’s ratings race. KSWB debuted Sept. 27, while KUSI’s newscast has been on the air since 1990.
In the November Nielsen sweeps, KUSI had more than double the ratings of KSWB, with a 5.4 percentage of the 920,000 households in the San Diego market that have a television. Of the TV sets that were turned on for the newscast’s first 15 minutes, KUSI was on 9 percent of them.
More News Viewers
For the same time slot, the fledgling KSWB scored a 2.1 percent of the households, with 4 percent of the TV sets turned on.
Bigger than ratings is the fact that more people are watching news at 10 p.m., XETV sales manager Chuck Dunning said. According to Dunning, viewership in San Diego, like other West Coast cities, tends to drop off significantly at 10 p.m.
However, KUSI and KSWB’s recent sweeps ratings indicate a total news audience of 21,750, which is 7.5 percent of the market’s televisions, compared to 13,340 viewers (4.6 percent average) last November.
XETV news director Alberto Pando won’t be watching ratings for the first couple months. Having spent the last year developing the newscast , from facility design to hiring reporters , Pando has focused on fine-tuning the program, he said.
“This is a work in progress. We want to make sure everything checks out,” Pando said. “We’re looking at this brand-spanking new, state of the art, cutting-edge facility, which means bugs.”
He expects that system glitches will be worked out in the next two to three months.
$13 Million Investment
The newscast and facility has cost XETV’s owner, Grupo Televisa of Mexico City, $13 million. Although Fox management in New York had been anxious to see its affiliates start their newscasts, the station set its own start date and is pleased with it, Dunning said.
For sales, January is a little more laid back, with network dramas usually in repeats, and XETV’s own airspace will be in less demand and more available for its own promotional spots, Dunning said.
For ratings, the Dec. 27 debut leaves six weeks to cultivate an audience before February sweeps, he said.
Dunning expects the newscast’s audience to follow Fox’s viewer profile, age 20 to 55, which plays off of lead-in shows such as “Ally McBeal,” “Party of Five” and the “X-Files.”
The station’s marketers say their demographic’s median age is 33 for the 1998-99 prime-time season. That’s on the young side compared with the median ages of its competitors , 41 for ABC, 53 for CBS, 43 for NBC and 26 for the younger-skewed WB.
The XETV news staff numbers 55, 15 of whom are part-time. There are 12 on-air reporters and anchors.
With details still to be worked out, the station expects to further enhance its news programming with a Sunday sports wrap-up, then a morning show, Dunning said.
It would follow along the progress of other Fox affiliates, including Los Angeles.
In San Diego, KUSI has aired a morning newscast since 1994.
Pointing to the other affiliates’ success in their markets is one way to “sell” the newscast’s advertising slots, Dunning said.
The 10 p.m. broadcast will bring the station a lot of sales credibility, he said.
“A lot of advertisers are very partial to news programming, and if you don’t have it, no matter how good your other programming, there’s a lost opportunity there,” he said.