Market Profile: St. Louis

Until Nielsen turned on local people meters in St. Louis in January 2009, it was a two-station TV news race between Belo’s CBS affiliate KMOV and Gannett’s NBC affiliate KSDK-TV.

Since then, ratings have compressed, creating a tighter three-way race among the two leaders and KTVI, Local TV’s Fox affiliate.

KTVI, which shares operations, programming and other services with Tribune’s CW affiliate KPLR, has tried to step up its news game. Already leading in morning ratings, the station recently added an hour of local news at 9 a.m. Two years ago when the stations teamed up, newscasts were rescheduled so that KPLR wouldn’t compete with KTVI. KPLR airs the market’s only newscast at 7 p.m. and clears prime time as if the station were in the Eastern time zone, not Central. KSDK—the early news leader both at 5 and 6 p.m. in adults 25-54—added to its local news after the Olympics wrapped, becoming the first station in the market to begin morning news at 4:30 a.m.

In early news, KTVI is closing in on KSDK at 5 p.m., while KTVI and KMOV are in a close race for No. 2 at 6 p.m., separated by tenths of a rating point. KMOV is the late-news winner at 10 p.m., followed by KSDK and KTVI, which also airs a 9 p.m. newscast.

Conspicuously out of the news race is KDNL, the ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which airs no news. Sinclair recently signed a new affiliation agreement with the network.

Although there’s no formal video sharing agreement in the market among the stations, KMOV and KSDK (the local flagship for pro baseball’s Cardinals) agreed to share video from Cardinals spring training in Jupiter, Fla., with the option to expand to a broader arrangement.

KMOV, which used to carry the call letters KMOX, partners with KMOX-AM owned by CBS Radio for a 10 a.m. local news program, Great Day St. Louis. The station also partners with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on a Saturday morning program.

The radio market slipped one place in rank to No. 21, overtaken by faster growing Denver. Stations made the transition to Arbitron’s portable people meter service last summer. Unlike other markets, where Urban-formatted stations took a hit, WHHL-FM, Radio One’s Urban station, surged from No. 12 to being tied in January for No. 1 with the iconic and perennial top-rated KMOX (a 50,000-watt signal that can be picked up at night in most of the U.S. east of the Rockies). Bonneville’s Adult Hits station, WARH-FM “The Arch,” has also fared well under the new ratings system, scoring No. 1 in adults 25-54.

St. Louis is down to three Urban stations. At the beginning of the year, Clear Channel dumped its Urban “Beat” programming on KATZ-FM after a 10-year run for a new Modern Adult Contemporary station known as “The Sound” with new call letters WSDD. It’s a clear shot to take away share from WARH.

Sports is big in St. Louis, which supports three Sports outlets. There’s a lot of buzz over which station will become the Cardinals flagship in 2011. St. Louis Sports Radio’s KTRS-AM is now in its fifth year of carrying the games, but the team could be heading back to bigger-signal KMOX, the longtime home of the Cardinals. WXOS-FM, Bonneville’s Sports station, is also a contender.

St. Louis is the headquarters of Charter Communications, the fourth largest cable operator, which emerged last November from Chapter 11 bankruptcy under a pre-arranged reorganization. The cable system has new competition for customers from AT&T U-Verse, which has made some headway in the market since its launch in 2007.