KFSN’s ‘Killer High’ Doc Represents Broadcasting’s Future

KFSN in Fresno, California, created an hour-long documentary examining California’s fentanyl epidemic and released it on streaming platforms a week before its broadcast on television. Why? “That is where we see the future of broadcasting,” says Tim Sarquis, KFSN’s executive producer of content development.

KFSN, the ABC-owned affiliate in Fresno, California, released Killer High: The Silent Crisis, an hour-long documentary examining California’s fentanyl epidemic, for streaming across KFSN’s free news app, ABC30 Central CA, and on streaming platforms Amazon Fire TVAndroid TVApple TV and Roku on Sunday, Sept. 19th.

Seven days later, on Saturday, Sept. 25th at 10 p.m., Killer High: The Silent Crisis, will broadcast on KFSN, as well as across ABC-owned stations’ in San Francisco (KGO), Los Angeles (KABC), and on FX and National Geographic.

Why is KFSN releasing the documentary for streaming a week earlier than the broadcast version?

Tim Sarquis

“We actually push the OTT app more because that is where we see the future of broadcasting,” says Tim Sarquis, KFSN’s executive producer of content development.


“People are wanting to stream their news right now,” Sarquis says.

Sarquis says the station is promoting Killer High: The Silent Crisis all this week in its newscasts, tagging it out saying “you can watch right now on ABC30’s streaming apps or watch this Saturday night at 10.”

Sarquis says this pattern follows what the station did for its previous documentary, Mountain Strong: Surviving the Creek Fire in April 2021.

“We saw great success,” Sarquis says. “We had some of the highest minutes viewed ever on our app, not just locally, but nationally across all of our owned TV stations’ apps as well.”

Sarquis says Mountain Strong increased the hours streamed on KFSN’s Connected TV apps by 20-25% and grew audience by more than 10%.

“There were lots of new users and increased minutes viewed, which will lead to more sampling of new content on the apps,” Sarquis says.

The streaming versions of both documentaries generate revenue by pre-roll ads, which are geo-targeted.

“It knows where you are,” Sarquis says. “So, if you are in Fresno you may get a local Fresno ad, if you are in Philly you may get a local Philly ad.”

The documentaries are considered premium content, which is a priority for all eight owned ABC affiliates, Sarquis says.

Sarquis defines premium content as high impact programming outside the daily news cycle.

“If we do one documentary, we want to touch all of our platforms,” Sarquis says. “We want to touch broadcast, we want to touch OTT, we want to touch online on our website. We want to feed the content to everyone. We want to give it to all the different people that prefer the different types of platforms.”

Sarquis is part of a group of news executives at KFSN who pitch ideas for stories that are locally and nationally relevant, which ultimately determines the type of premium content projects that get developed.

Killer High: The Silent Crisis, began over the summer after a press conference by law enforcement about the rise of fentanyl in California, Sarquis says.

 “It was very timely, it was locally and nationally relevant and we have people who are willing to help us tell the story,” Sarquis says.  

In 2015, 9,580 people died from fentanyl overdoses in the United States. In 2019, that number increased nearly 280% to 36,359. Out of those deaths, 3,040 were people aged 15-24-years old.

Brandon Johansen

Brandon Johansen, a reporter at KSFN, says once the topic was determined, he and Sarquis started the process immediately.

“You want to obviously have all the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys,” Johansen says. “But we need characters to tell their story because that is how it will resonate.”

What Johansen and Sarquis discovered about how prevalent Fentanyl is in the schools, and how easy it is for teenagers to access it, was shocking, Sarquis says.

“The goal for this project is to really be an eye-opener to our viewers and to the community, to know just how deep this goes,” he says.

Johansen says kids can order fentanyl on their phones, on Snapchat, and get it delivered to their parents’ houses with their parents none the wiser.

“There is a lot of blissful ignorance about drugs in general and especially about this one,” Johansen says. “Parents might say my kid would never do that, or we live in a nice area, that doesn’t impact us here. What we have learned in this is that is not true.”

Sarquis says Killer High: The Silent Crisis was shot, edited, directed, written and produced by himself and Johansen.

“We did every single part on this project, just the two of us.”

And from just watching the trailer for Killer High: The Silent Crisis, the future of broadcasting is in good hands.

KLKN, Standard Media’s ABC affiliate in Lincoln, Nebraska, is looking for an Assignment Editor/ Digital Producer, a Newscast Producer and a Senior Multimedia Journalist to help strengthen Nebraska’s Trusted News Source. You’ll love living, working, and playing in Lincoln. It’s is known for its low cost of living, and city life with small town roots. CNBC rated Lincoln #9 in their 2019 Top States for Business, while SmartAsset ranked Lincoln #2 for their 2020 edition of Cities with the Best Work-Life balance. Click here for more specifics and how to apply. 


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