Market Eye: Central Arkansas Keeps Keeping On

Employment picture stays relatively steady in the No. 56 DMA

As the second word in the name implies, there's a strong economic foundation in Little Rock. The employment picture stays relatively steady in the No. 56 DMA, thanks to the government jobs in the state capital and a growing medical community. Also on the bright side, Caterpillar is opening up a new manufacturing facility. On the down side, Little Rock-based Alltel, recently acquired by Verizon Wireless, is cutting staff.

“I would love for it to be great, but business is good,” says KTHV President/General Manager Larry Audas. “The market has a penchant for keeping on.”

The ratings race in Little Rock-Pine Bluff has long been a dogfight between Gannett's CBS affiliate KTHV and Allbritton's ABC outlet KATV. KTHV won morning news in March while KATV took evenings. KTHV grabbed late news with a 10 household rating/21 share, just ahead of KATV's 9/20.

But Fox affiliate KLRT is making a game of it at 9 (it posted a 7/14). The station grew household share 17% from February 2008 to March 2009, says KLRT/KASN VP/General Manager Chuck Spohn. He says new owner Newport Television has been a plus: “They're TV guys; it's a good fit.”

Speaking of new starts, Nexstar recently acquired MyNetworkTV affiliate KARZ from Equity Media, pairing it with its NBC affiliate KARK. (General Manager Gayle Kiger departed KARK May 1.) Newport's Fox-CW duopoly launched the outdoors-themed digital channel Untamed Sports in January. KATV started broadcasting from a new 1,250-foot tower atop Shinall Mountain Feb. 20, and will add RTN on its digital tier by July 1.

KTHV started a largely unscripted 6:30 p.m. news a month ago. “It has a little bit of a cable news feel to it,” Audas says. “Anchors are not married to the desk or to scripts.”

That new newscast freed up syndicated program Extra, which Spohn says has been a “gold mine” since moving to KASN.

The crew at KATV is grieving the loss of anchor Anne Pressly, who was murdered in October. Curtis Lavelle Vance is scheduled to stand trial in September.

KATV trains Webcams on reporter Jessica Dean and gives viewers a say in what stories get airtime through its “Choose Your News” program. Dean is in the midst of visiting 25 cities in 25 days, and KATV is streaming her findings on KATV.com. “We're trying to find ways to be a lot more creative with that technology,” says Station Manager Mark Rose.

The economy could be better, but general managers say life is good in central Arkansas. Says Audas: “Folks come and go, but it's a place where people from Arkansas want to be.”

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