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NBC execs hope to clear up KNTV

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The San Francisco market’s new NBC affiliate, KNTV, is exploring moving its transmitter to try to improve signal coverage.
Many viewers in the northern part of the market lost their over-the-air NBC signal because KNTV doesn’t reach as far as the old NBC affiliate KRON-TV did. Granite-owned KNTV, located in San Jose, became an NBC affiliate on Jan. 1, while Young Broadcasting-owned KRON-TV, which was the longtime NBC affiliate, became an independent.
One option the station is considering is moving its transmitter from Loma Prieta to Mount Allison, about 25 miles northeast. However, that might be easier said than done.
KNTV, which will become an NBC owned-and-operated station in the second quarter, is licensed in San Jose, and Federal Communications Commission regulations say the station’s transmitter has to stay in the city where it has a license. Steve Doerr, NBC’s senior VP of news and programming for the owned stations and part of the transition team overseeing the KNTV switch, said it’s not definite they will move the transmitter.
“It’s a possibility,” Mr. Doerr said. The Loma Prieta site now is at the bottom of Santa Clara County, just north of the Monterey-Salinas market, which was the market KNTV used to be in.
“The KNTV signal is extremely important to KNTV and NBC, and we’re looking at anything and everything to make sure we get the best signal possible,” Mr. Doerr said. “There are certainly signal issues we have to address. We’ve made some major upgrades, and we’ve increased the power. The actual moving of the transmitter is a big deal-it’s a lot of work, and we have to do engineering studies. If we were to move the signal north, that’s an enormous undertaking. You have to find tower space and get it approved at various local government boards.”
Viewers living in northern San Francisco and the affluent Marin County have complained they cannot get KNTV over the air. “The problem is our transmitter, which is in the southern part of the market, and the topography of the market makes it a real engineering challenge. There are a lot of mountains,” Mr. Doerr said. “In the past, people in the southern part of the market had trouble getting KRON-TV over the air, and now people in the northern part are having a hard time getting [KNTV] over the air.”
KNTV is also putting on a major marketing blitz rebranding the station as “NBC3,” even though KNTV is actually Channel 11 over the air. On cable’s AT&T Broadband, KNTV is on Channel 3. “Ninety-eight percent of people who see us, see us on Channel 3 on cable,” Mr. Doerr said.
A KNTV spokesperson said the market is one of the most heavily cabled in the country, with 80 percent cable penetration, which translates to 1.8 million homes. And 92 percent of all cable homes have AT&T Broadband. KNTV is now in 99 percent of all Bay area cable homes, and it will be in 100 percent before the end of January.
“A lot’s been made of some of the signal problems we’ve had, but the truth of the matter is for most people, getting our signal hasn’t been a problem,” Mr. Doerr said.
To combat the signal problem in the market, KNTV and AT&T Broadband have been running spots on the air that offer viewers a within-24-hours installation time when they sign up for cable. Viewers can phone a call center and a cable installer will arrive within 24 hours to set up the service. The call center was also set up for confused viewers who have questions about the switch.
For the first week after KNTV made the switch, NBC’s prime-time numbers in the market fell to a 5.5 rating/10 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. The January 2001 average on KRON was 8.3/13.