Market Eye: Boomtown on the Border

Four-city DMA offers array of over-the-air stations in two languages

Why This Matters

What’s Working In Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen

KGBT is streaming about 70 schoolboy football games from the region on its site this season. The station takes the feed from the schools and promotes the games on TV. KGBT had 212,000 unique users for a playoff game last year, says Tom Keeler, general manager (a typical Friday-night game generates about 30,000). “You can watch Texas high school football from all corners of the globe,” he says.

The Valley Football Central webcasts are sponsored and interactive, with users posting comments via Facebook. “Thanks Channel 4. Always number one in sports!” says one user from Shreveport, La.

Keeler says the streaming model will be deployed beyond the fall and will include other school sports, along with theater productions and commencement ceremonies. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “This does not end with football.” —MM

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Mexico figures into all aspects of life in the booming Texas
border market of Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen.
The TV households are around 85% Hispanic, say station
general managers, second only to Laredo for highest in the
U.S. Mexicans are a major factor in the retail landscape,
and the Spanish-language television offerings are vast.

Yet news south of the border tends to stay
there. “We don’t allow our news people to go
to Mexico,” says Bill Jorn, general manager at
NBC affiliate KVEO. “It’s just too dangerous.”

ABC affi liate KRGV, the market’s news leader,
has a similar, if slightly less guarded, philosophy
about covering news across the border. Journalists
are targeted, says John Kittleman, KRGV GM.
“Our policy is, no crossing the border without
management’s approval,” he says. “We’ll go there
in a very rare controlled situation.”

KRGV had a barn burner of a sweeps entry
in November 2011, its month-long “Battle for
the Border” investigative series shining the spotlight
on how Mexican drug crime affects the U.S.
border region. Viewers appreciated that KRGV
took risks to expose truths. “We feel blessed that
we have men and women at KRGV who have
bravely addressed this extremely unsettling issue,”
reads a letter from a husband and wife.

The Texas side of the border is mostly safe and
prosperous. TV insiders here say stringent Department
of Homeland Security measures have
kept undesirables out, while letting in what one
GM calls an “upper scale” of Mexican consumer.

The market moved from No. 87 to 86 in the
most recent Nielsen DMA rankings, and that’s
up from No. 110 some 15 years ago, say the
GMs. “The market acts larger than it is—it’s a
growth market for sure,” says Tom Keeler, president
and CEO at KGBT. “With improvements to
infrastructure, [the market is] building for continued
growth, 10 and 20 years out.”

The Spanish-language TV players are huge.
Entravision owns Univision outlet KNVO and
TeleFutura-aligned KVTF, as well as Fox affiliate XRIO and a new Mundo Fox station.
KVEO airs Estrella TV on its digital tier. Grupo
Televisa owns XERV; viewers here have a
chance to see original novelas on XERV before
they debut on Univision. Sunbelt Multimedia
has Telemundo affiliate KTLM.

The Manship family has owned KRGV for
decades. Kittleman mentions the station’s “longterm
commitment to news,” in the form of a
market-tops 6½ hours per day, as key to its
success. He credits the Manships for their unwavering
backing. “We’ve been owned by the
same family for 50 years, and that allows us to
have continuity in personnel and philosophy,”
he says. “We’re blessed to have a family behind
us that believes in journalism and broadcasting.”

Barrington owns CBS affiliate KGBT. Com-
Corp has NBC outlet KVEO. Time Warner
Cable is the dominant subscription TV operator.

KRGV, airing in full HD, won total-day household
ratings in the May sweeps, ahead of KNVO.
KRGV also took the morning, early evening and
late news contests, the latter with a 14.8 household
rating/26 share, though the Univision station
posted better adults 25-54 numbers at 10
p.m. XERV won primetime.

KRGV’s rivals are stepping up their news presence.
KGBT has reformatted its morning news,
scrapping a wheel format for a more conversational
vibe on set. “We are repositioning ourselves
in the market,” says Keeler. “If we can be
successful there, it will start off our whole day.”

KVEO has 5 and 10 p.m. news, with local cutins
in the morning. Jorn would like to have full
morning newscasts, and is thinking about weekends,
along with local content on Estrella.

KVEO has a unique news setup, with anchors in El Paso-800 miles and a different time zone away. "We have a full blown news department here-it just so happens our anchors are out of El Paso," says Jorn. "Everything is done here, but instead of sending it to the next room, we send it to El Paso.

KRGV, its call letters referring to Rio Grande Valley, added a 4 p.m. news upon Oprah's departure, and expanded its 6 p.m. news to an hour. It's got a tough act to follow in November, after last year's sweeps special. "We're definitely working on some things," says Kittleman. "Everybody's expected to bring ideas to the table."

With a lively batch of stations on both sides of the border, the broadcast TV offerings are aplenty in Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen. "There are probably more over-the-air stations in this market than maybe anywhere in the U.S.," says Jorn. "You damn near don't need cable or satellite, unless you're a TV junkie."

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