The News Competition in Denver

At 6 a.m. each weekday morning, after pouring her coffee and patting her dog for a few minutes, KUSA News Director Christy Moreno obsessively refreshes her iPhone for an email containing the previous day’s TV news ratings.

She also logs onto FTVLive, but the Denver Post article doesn't mention that. 

The Post story does say Moreno, obsesses on the ratings. 

“I absolutely go through every show that we’ve got,” said Moreno, the news director at KUSA-Channel 9, Denver’s longtime ratings champion. “I take into account what kind of day it was. Was it a holiday? Was there a big sporting event? Was it raining?”

All of this happens before Moreno jumps into her Honda CRV and drives to KUSA’s studios.

“It’s strange how many of those (ratings) stick with me throughout the day,” said Moreno, who joined Denver’s NBC affiliate in 2015 after stints in Houston and Knoxville, Tenn. “The competition here is tight. I always tell people our competitors are getting better and smarter all the time, so we have to do the same thing.”

That’s no surprise in the TV-news world, where the difference of a single Nielsen ratings point in a Denver-sized market can mean millions of dollars in advertising revenue, according to local industry professionals.

But these days, staying competitive means more than just refreshing the faces reading the news, as KUSA must do when veteran anchor Adele Arakawa steps down June 30 (As FIRST reported by FTVLive). As Arakawa recently told The Denver Post, stations such as KUSA formerly commanded a 45 share (or percent of TVs turned on at the time.)

“Now we celebrate a 4 or 5 share,” she said.

The Denver Post writes that has forced not only television stations but all news media to experiment with digital formats and other types of engagement as viewers — particularly younger ones — melt away from traditional delivery methods and turn toward mobile and online consumption.

But while cord-cutting is one of the buzziest trends in the tech world, the local TV news industry remains a relative powerhouse.

“The majority of people are not regular viewers of local TV news, so the question is, can we come up with different types of content to appeal to these folks?” said Kyle Clark, KUSA news anchor and host of “Next with Kyle Clark.”

“Next” represented a bold experiment for KUSA when it launched in August, focusing on upbeat enterprise stories and social media engagement over typical teleprompter fodder.

“It seems like the real risk would be refusing to innovate at a time in which the industry as a whole is in a difficult place,” Clark said. “Instead of fighting over an ever-shrinking pie, why don’t we go out and find a new pie?”

The heavily marketed “Next” has lost ground compared with Channel 9’s previous 6 p.m. newscast. As of the May sweeps period, “Next” was down 18 percent compared with the conventional newscast in that slot previously, with a 1.97 rating. However, KUSA officials noted that “Next” still ranks No. 1 in its time slot, and that roughly 75 percent of all viewer feedback at the station is now related to “Next.”

“The Walter Cronkite days are gone. You can’t just sit at a desk and read the news anymore,” said Joan Barrett, general manager of KDVR-Channel 31, Denver’s Fox affiliate. “The toughest task in this market is getting people to look somewhere else and sample a new product.”

But, KDVR/KWGN thinks that the old faces are the future. 

Holly Gauntt, vice president of news at KDVR says, “We completely re-branded and overhauled the newscasts on the KWGN side and we’re seeing nice growth in less than a year,” Gauntt said “In a time when most stations are letting veteran anchors go, we’re bringing them back.”

“We always pay attention to what everyone else is doing, but ultimately we have to look in the mirror every day and say, ‘What are we doing to be more innovative?’ ” said Moreno, KUSA’s news director. “It can be absolutely mentally exhausting when you’re trying to transform everything you do. But I will never be complacent … and I’m not going to let my guard down.”