Last year, KCOP-TV Channel 13 was languishing in the local prime-time ratings, broadcasting a tired library of movies six nights a week and bringing in little money from advertisers for its efforts. The lone bright sentinel was an original TV series, "Star Trek: The Next Generation," which advertisers clamored for because of its heavy concentration of young male viewers.
So in January, KCOP cut back on old movies and staked a claim in the gold rush of action-adventure TV series being produced for syndication by picking up "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," "The Untouchables," "Kung Fu: The Legend Continues" and "Time Trax."
Thanks to those series--plus the return of "The Next Generation" and "Baywatch," another syndicated hour of action--the independent KCOP showed a 39% audience increase from 8-10 p.m. in February from the year before. As for the Los Angeles stations owned by the Big Three networks, KCBS-TV Channel 2 fell 21%, KNBC-TV Channel 4 lost 15% and KABC-TV Channel 7 showed a 1% increase.
Although the ratings on KCOP's series have fallen off from their two-hour movie premieres, they have nonetheless become highly competitive in the Los Angeles-Orange County market. The A.C. Nielsen Co. reports that during February, "Deep Space Nine" averaged a 13 rating, "The Untouchables" a 10 and "Time Trax" a 9 (each point represents 49,657 homes). Those ratings include two weekly broadcasts of each show. "Kung Fu," which airs once a week, averaged a 6 rating in February.
By way of comparison, KNBC averaged a 9.9 rating in February from 8-10 p.m., KCBS averaged a 10.5 and KABC led the pack with a 12.4. "Over time it became more and more obvious that we couldn't continue to run movies in prime time over the long haul because of the way the game has changed," said Rick Feldman, vice president and general manager for KCOP. "You buy movies today and sometimes you don't get them till 1996, 1997, 1998 or 2001. By the time you get those movies, to a large degree, many of them have been seen in various sundry venues before we can put them on the air."
Feldman had seen what happened to the stock of KTTV-TV Channel 11 six years ago when the Fox Broadcasting Co. was formed, providing the formerly independent KTTV with an increasing stream of series programming. KTTV rose to become the No. 4 station in the market in the 8-10 p.m. period behind the Big Three network stations.
Last year, Christ-Craft Industries, which owns KCOP and a group of other TV stations that together reach 20% of the country, aggressively set out to acquire its own lineup of programming to compete with the networks. Most of the Chris-Craft stations made deals with Paramount and Warner Bros., studios that were wooing independent stations with lavish series designed to compete with network shows.
"This is all about the generation of revenue, and advertisers pay more for first-run, prime-time programming than they pay for the fourth run of a movie, even though the movie may receive a higher rating," Feldman said.
According to Chuck Bachrach, director of media resources and programming for the advertising firm Rubin Postaer & Associates, KCOP is receiving between $10,000 and $15,000 for a 30-second commercial on "Deep Space Nine," the most successful of the new series. Last year, KCOP was getting from $1,500 to $2,500 for the same 30-second spot during movie reruns.
"We're seeing an appreciable revenue increase, based on the fact that our new prime-time inventory is worth three to four to five times more per spot than a regular prime movie would get," Feldman said.
Although KCOP must split the commercial time sold to advertisers on its series--the studios retain roughly half in lieu of a payment from stations--industry observers believe that KCOP is still coming out ahead. For one thing, Paramount and Warner Bros. have kicked in half of the cost of print and radio advertisements that KCOP has taken out to promote its action-adventure lineup.
A former executive at a competing station compared the advertising trade-offs and the promotional support to what Fox affiliates experienced early on. "Stations lost a lot of commercial time when they took on prime-time programming from Fox," he said. "On the other hand, what Fox provided them was exposure, with numbers and demographics so huge that they could double and triple their advertising rates. So the potential is tremendous. KCOP is ahead, definitely ahead."
Reflecting a trend across the country, the action-adventure series have performed better than many expected on KCOP, especially in young male demographics. According to research from the Arbitron Co., three of the top five series in January with men 18 to 49 here were on KCOP: "Time Trax" and the two "Star Trek" series. The other two, "The Simpsons" and "Married . . . With Children," were on KTTV.
"I think what you're seeing from a program standpoint more than anything else is a reaction from the male audience to the lack of programming on network television for them," said a senior executive at a TV studio. "Network television went to sitcoms, and as a general rule sitcoms are female skewing. Men are really disenfranchised from the whole network world. This is beckoning for them to come back."
An added benefit is that KCOP has cut its movie nights in half, from six to three nights a week. "That has raised the value of their movie inventory because there's less of it," explained Keith Samples, head of Rysher Entertainment, a syndicated production and distribution company.
In the future, Feldman plans to keep at least two or three nights of movies a week, although he does want to diversify with KCOP's series. "We don't want to make the mistake of being a one-note station," he said. "We want women as well as men, and as wide a variety of series as possible. We don't want 14 action-oriented men's shows on the air."
A gangbuster of action-adventures have already hit or are heading for network and syndicated television, including "Renegade" and "Highlander" on KTLA-TV Channel 5, which have not had the impact locally of the KCOP series. Even Feldman has signed up for another one for next year, Stephen J. Cannell's "Viper," a crime drama starring "American Ninja's" Michael Dudikoff.
"That's the worst thing that can ever happen," the former station executive said, "the competition that success stimulates. The more shows you have, the more situations where they will play opposite each other eventually, and the more ratings will be diminished and fractionalized. And then what happens is the quality disintegrates because the last one in this is just in it for the quick money."