Ratings-Challenged Channel 2's Expansion Plans

Categories: Media

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Beginning on Monday, July 7, Channel 2 will launch a new half-hour weekday newscast at 5:30 p.m. A station press release calls the move "a milestone for the television station," not to mention another opportunity for anchors Ernie Bjorkman and Kellie MacMullan and chief meteorologist Dave Fraser to get some face time. But it's also an attempt to broaden the outlet's audience at a time of enormous challenges inside and outside the operation.

Ratings for News2's hour-long 9 p.m. newscast are, in a word, dreadful. Early in the signal's competition with Channel 31, which began airing a 9 p.m. newscast of its own earlier this decade, the race was fairly close. Not anymore, though. The numbers from May sweeps, the most recent month when viewership was calculated for the purpose of setting advertising rates, show that Channel 31 attracted well over twice as many folks as Channel 2. Worse, Channel 20's half-hour-long 9 p.m. newscast, which went live more recently, is practically dead-even with Channel 2. And because the former has the muscle of ratings-leader Channel 9 behind it, those totals are likely to trend upward over time.

Meanwhile, the station is under increasing pressure to cut costs since its parent company, Tribune, came under the control of billionaire real-estate magnate Sam Zell, a colorful personage recently referred to as a "human wrecking ball" by the Washington Post. In such an environment, it was no surprise when execs decided not to renew veteran sports anchor Marc Soicher's contract. Meanwhile, industry sources have been sharing the same rumors with yours truly that the Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow alluded to in a July 1 blog -- namely, that there may be some kind of agreement between channels 2 and 31 to consolidate certain operations, probably on the business side.

No telling at this point if this last prospect is grounded in reality or fantasy. But outgoing Channel 31 chieftain Bill Schneider has been hinting around about his station inaugurating a weekday afternoon newscast since at least an interview for an April 17 Message column. Staking out this territory before its main rival makes sense even if collaboration is in the offing -- and should Zell see Channel 2 doing more with the same or fewer resources, he may be less likely to order massive cuts, as he's done at other properties under his control.

Of course, that's not the way Channel 2 is spinning things. For their take, read the station's latest press release below. -- Michael Roberts

KWGN Channel 2 Announces Key News Expansion

(KWGN TV 2 Denver) Channel 2 is pleased to announce that News2 will launch a weeknight half-hour news at 5:30 PM beginning Monday, July 7, 2008, a milestone for the television station and the beginning of several significant news developments.

"To be able to offer viewers the only local and live newscast at 5:30 PM is a tremendous opportunity and commitment to our community," said KWGN vice-president and general manager Jim Zerwekh.

"It's already an established news-viewing time period because of the pre-recorded national newscasts on other channels, but we'll be the only station to connect with our viewers on a live and local level with a focus on what's going on in Colorado, from news and the latest weather to traffic impact during the evening rush hour," said KWGN news director Carl Bilek. "It's a time when many viewers are just arriving home from work and they'll have no need to wait to see the day's local news developments."

Featuring 9:00 PM News2 anchors Ernie Bjorkman and Kellie MacMullan, News2 chief meteorologist Dave Fraser, Unit2 Consumer reporter Dave Young, and News2 morning feature reporter and midday anchor Chris Parente, the 5:30 PM newscast is designed to be an informative yet entertaining half-hour which will appeal to both regular and casual news viewers.

"Channel 2's expansion of its news operation is another important first for the station and directly in-line with the corporate vision for the station, "Zerwekh said. "Support for local news has never been stronger on a corporate level. This news expansion demonstrates that Channel 2 is in the local news business to stay and is moving forward with plans to do even more news."

In addition to its 9:00 PM news hour, the first newscast in Colorado, Channel 2 also produces the most successful local morning news block in the Denver market as well as a half-hour midday newscast at 11:00 AM. "The midday newscast will expand to one-hour before the fall, meaning News2 will produce six-and-a-half hours of live news programming every weekday, the most local news on any one television station in Denver. We've come a long way since being the alternative news choice at 9:00 o'clock. News2 is a competitive and viable source for news in the Denver market and continuing to look at ways to do more," said Bilek.

In addition to the launch of the 5:30 PM newscast, the station's website, kwgn.com, is undergoing a re-design which will launch in early August. "There is a lot happening on the local level in the coming months not the least of which is the Democratic National Convention, so the ability to expand our news programming and services now converges with a critical time within the Denver market," said Bilek.

"We're proud to be able to add another significant "first" to the station. The first news station in Colorado, the first station with live remote broadcasts, the first four-hour weekday morning news block, and now the first 5:30 PM newscast. Channel 2 is focused on the immediacy of now, and firmly focused on the future of news programming in the Denver market and Colorado as a whole," stated Zerwekh.

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