Market Eye: Border Towns Blast Off

Four-city Texas market sees major investments, big-time growth

A massively ambitious venture breaking ground in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley serves as an apt metaphor for the market: SpaceX is building a rocket-launching pad in the region. It means jobs and prestige for Harlingen-Weslaco-Brownsville-McAllen. “It’s like Cape Canaveral 50 years ago,” said John Kittleman, general manager at KRGV. “It will have a huge impact on the region.”

SpaceX is not the only major investor in the region. Sinclair, Nexstar and NBCUniversal have acquired stations here in recent years. The outlets were typically underfunded, and have been experiencing the perks of new ownership. Sinclair’s CBS affiliate KGBT switched on local HD at the end of February (see sidebar). NBC-owned, Telemundo-aligned KTLM launched 4:30, 5 and 10 p.m. news of late.

“We’re starting to see big-time corporate owners investing in the market,” said Kittleman.

That includes Nexstar, which closed on NBC affiliate KVEO at the start of 2015. “We’re glad to be with a big broadcast company after being in limbo for so long,” said Bill Jorn, VP and general manager. “We’re looking at how to be more aggressive and better compete for those news dollars.”

0303_MarketEye_Chart.jpgKRGV, the Manship Family-owned ABC outlet, has to step up its game. The station thrives on a robust investigative attack and what Kittleman calls a “unique approach” to reporting. “It’s not press release journalism,” he said. “We try to find the unique local angle.”

KRGV has nine staff photographers and prefers traditional two-person crews to one-man bands. “We think it makes for a better viewing experience,” Kittleman said.

KRGV ran the table in the November ratings races, with KNVO a typical runner-up. KRGV put up a 13.5 household rating/24 share at 10 p.m., with KNVO at 10.7/19. Entravision owns Univision affiliate KNVO, UniMásaligned KTFV and local Fox KXFX. Grupo Televisa has O&O XERV. There are 363,000 TV homes in the market, according to Nielsen, and almost as many on the Mexico side. Jorn said the market was No. 115 when he arrived two decades ago. These days, it’s No. 86.

The stations are looking to capture the new arrivals’ attention. KTLM did not do live shots before it was acquired, said Jose Flores, president and general manager. Thanks to gear from Dejero and LiveU, the station can go live all over the vast DMA. “It’s a tremendous boost for us to be out representing the community,” he said.

KGBT has a new news director in Zoltan Csanyi, who worked on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “In order for us to really serve this community, it was imperative that our news director understand the border issues and culture,” said Tom Keeler, GM, “and speak Spanish.”

Mexican businesses are moving across the border to take advantage of a safer environment. A medical school is being built. People are drawn to the Rio Grande Valley’s low cost of living and weather. “It’s clear blue sky and 73 degrees,” Jorn said in late February. “People are playing golf and going fishing.”

INVESTMENT MADE, SINCLAIR WANTS TO SEE RETURNS

Sinclair picked up KGBT in its Barrington acquisition, and is giving the station big-time resources with which to finally compete. The station turned on HD in late February and installed a new set, graphics and weather system. The HD unveiling wrapped up six weeks of rehearsals that had harried staffers producing two newscasts, SD and HD, for every one that aired. “This should make a tremendous impact,” says Tom Keeler, general manager.

The CBS affiliate now has dual anchors in mornings, as well as a full-time a.m. meteorologist and a crew to dig up live shots. Next up—a noon news, perhaps as early as April. “Sinclair has invested a lot of money,” Keeler says, “and now it’s up to the people on the ground to lead and compete.”