Market Eye: Cowboying Up on a Big Story

Dallas TV faced unique challenge in reporting local Ebola scare

Dallas-Fort Worth gets all the huge stories one would expect of a top-five market—major sports, crime, even some severe weather. But the DMA got a unique one when Dallas became ground zero for the recent Ebola scare in the U.S. The news stations broke in regularly for updates in the days and weeks following Thomas Eric Duncan’s diagnosis Sept. 30. Besides dogged reporting, there were informational town halls and live online forums with viewers.

The news outlets struck the right tone, says Michael Devlin, WFAA president/GM, informing without stoking hysteria. “This was a completely different animal,” he says. “I thought the entire market reported on it very responsibly.”

DMA No. 5 is an extraordinarily competitive market, with five network owned stations, including the local Univision and Telemundo outlets, and a Gannett crown jewel. They’re looking for every advantage. That includes partnering with the Dallas Morning News, as KXAS-KXTX is, or grabbing its talent, as WFAA has done with veteran reporter Tanya Eiserer and managing editor George Rodrigue.

1201_MarketEye_Chart.jpgThe market’s economy is thriving. Toyota is consolidating three headquarters into a single campus in Plano. “There are cranes all over the city,” says Gary Schneider, KTVT-KTXA president/GM.

NBC-owned KXAS and Telemundo-sibling KXTX are working side by side in their new Fort Worth facility. It was “never easy” to work together in the previously separate setup, says Tom Ehlmann, KXAS president/GM. “It was designed from the ground up with a lot of input from employees,” he adds.

KXTX has just about doubled its head count in the past two years. The station debuted a 4:30 p.m. local news Nov. 3, and has turned its monthly Enfoque public affairs show into a weekly. “Now that we have more staff in the building, we’re making sure we provide more content to viewers,” says John Trevino, KXTX president/GM.

Fox owns KDFW and MyNetworkTV station KDFI. CBS has KTVT and indie KTXA. Univision owns KUVN and UniMás-aligned KSTR—and four radio stations. Tribune has the local CW, KDAF. DFW’s primary subscription TV operator is Time Warner Cable.

WFAA won 10 p.m. in households in the May sweeps, while KUVN was tops in viewers 25-54. WFAA thrives on what Devlin calls “a consistently good and well balanced” newscast. “If it’s a negative news day, we try to balance it out,” he says. “People don’t go to bed thinking the world is an evil place.”

Dallas residents are well-served by the TV outlets. KTVT debuted weekend morning news in September and launches new digi-net Decades on its subchannel next year. KUVN provides health screenings.

It helps to have a partner—a TV or radio station, a newspaper—in such a busy metropolis. “We can go out to the market as one business unit,” Mark Masepohl, Univision Dallas senior VP/GM, said of its TV/radio strategy. “That’s really powerful in a market like this.”

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The Fox duopoly in Dallas is pushing hard on its digital strategy, including the “Wapp” weather app, which has 1.3 million downloads, and a robust presence on major social platforms. KDFW has a popular YouTube page and over 652,000 Facebook fans, well ahead of WFAA’s 371,000 and KXAS’s 261,000, along with over 100,000 fans of Fox 4 Weather.

A giant catalyst for KDFW-KDFI’s online activity was a July story about a local teen whose cellphone began melting under her pillow while she slept. The story went viral. “This one just kept going,” says Kathy Saunders, VP/GM. “And not just on Facebook— YouTube, our website, on-air, everything.”

Fox’s Dallas stations make Facebook friends with fresh material, says Saunders, not user giveaways. “We like to do it with content,” she says.