Local TV

Market Eye: Rocked by Mother Nature

Central Arkansas takes natural disasters on the chin 5/23/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern

What’s Working In Little Rock-Pine Bluff

“Family-friendly” isn’t something you typically hear associated with local news, but that’s the image KTHV, known locally as Today’s THV, is putting forth. The feline face of the Gannett station’s ethos is Joey, a stray cat station staffers essentially adopted after it was born under a restaurant adjacent to the station.

Joey has become a full-fledged celebrity, with an appearance on Animal Planet’s Must Love Cats in March. He sleeps either in a custombuilt house in KTHV’s “weather garden” or in a bed behind the set. “People who don’t like cats love Joey,” says David Craft, KTHV interim general manager. “The whole station takes care of him.”

Joey’s antics, such as tearing up a couch on the station’s morning news set, helps bring out the human side of the anchors. “He’s a great part of our brand,” says Craft. “It’s why people like us.” —MM

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Severe weather is common this time of year in Little Rock–Pine Bluff,
Ark., but the past few months have been particularly brutal. February saw
blizzard conditions, April had tornadoes and May brought on flooding so
severe that it closed Interstate 40, a vital artery that bisects the market
and connects Little Rock with Memphis, Tenn.

“Farmland was flooded, the levees are at their max,”
says David Craft, interim general manager and VP of
marketing at KTHV. “It’s just a bad deal.”

The stations in DMA No. 56 have been scrambling to
cover the disasters and other major news events. Craft
says KTHV bumped primetime for three nights in late
April to cover tornadoes, the royal wedding and an address
by President Obama.

Little Rock’s local outlets are increasingly
using social media to get news
reports out, too. When Nick Genty
moved from the KTHV newsroom
to KATV in February (he was named
KATV news director in April), he set
out to boost the station’s Facebook
presence; a series of promotions that
includes $100 gift card giveaways has
elevated KATV’s number of Facebook
pals from 17,000 to 40,000-plus.

Multiple station executives in Little
Rock say social media has been essential
to transmitting vital news amidst the natural
disasters, especially when electricity
is knocked out and smartphones emerge
as a lifeline. “It’s a great connection with
viewers,” Genty says. “We can talk with
them and see what’s on their mind, and
they can give us story ideas.”

KTHV has 54,000-plus Facebook
friends, which Craft says is tops
among Gannett’s stations. KTHV is a strong competitor
on all fronts. The CBS affiliate won primetime in the
February sweeps by a mile, and took late news with
a 10.1 household rating and 20.8 share—just ahead
of ABC affiliate KATV’s 9.7 rating/20 share. Allbritton’s
KATV won total-day ratings in February, along with the
6 a.m. and early evening news races.

HD has hit the market in a big way. KTHV was fi rst
up with local HD early this year. Nexstar NBC affiliate
KARK and Newport TV’s KLRT flipped on HD in April.
KATV has yet to switch to local hi-def. “There’s a little
bit of an HD war going on,” says Chuck Spohn, VP and
general manager at KLRT-KASN. “Our HD is definitely
one of the more stunning visuals in the market.”

Newport has a Fox-CW duopoly. Nexstar has the
NBC-MyNetworkTV duo KARK-KARZ. Nexstar uses its
Little Rock operations as a hub; it’s looking to expand
the hub’s capacity in mid-June to handle eight stations’
master control, up from the current five, and with room
for more (broadcastingcable.com/May16). The build-out
paves the way for Nexstar to launch HD in more markets.

“It makes much more sense to invest in a hub architecture
when you are building up an HD platform, rather than
having to do those upgrades in each of the stations,” Blake
Russell, Nexstar senior VP of station operations, told B&C.
“It’s a much more cost-effective transition path.”

There have been significant management changes
at the Little Rock stations. Larry Audas, former KTHV
president/GM, was named to the top spot at Gannett’s
WFMY Greensboro (N.C.) in April. Craft, the station’s
VP of marketing, is interim GM. Genty succeeded
KATV’s longtime news director Randy Dixon after Dixon
left in February to start a production company.

Stations are doing all they can to get ahead. KLRT in
February marked the one-year anniversary of its 10 p.m.
news, which Spohn says is picking up momentum. Industry
watchers in Little Rock say KARZ has trimmed its
newscasts in the morning and evening; General Manager
Rick Rogala did not return calls for comment. KATV has
an innovative play with its “Filler Up” newscasts—mini
news shows airing on screens affixed to gas pumps at
select Shell stations in the market. The initiative debuted
about two months ago. The programs run 30 seconds
to a minute and are updated four or five times a day.
Filler Up is a content play, as opposed
to a sponsorship opportunity for local
marketers. “There were a couple bugs
to work out, but it seems to be working
really well,” Genty says. “It’s a captive
audience. We hope to expand it.”

KTHV’s 6:30 p.m. newscast recently
turned two, and the station debuted
the market’s first 4:30 a.m. news late
last year. A marketer at heart, Craft
says KTHV thrives on a series of words
starting with F, including fair, factual,
family-friendly and even fun. The fun
approach is epitomized by a stray cat
named Joey that the station has essentially
adopted and built a house
for in its outdoor set that’s dubbed the
“weather garden”. Since
tallying Facebook friends is all the
rage, it’s worth noting that Joey has
close to 12,000 digital pals—most of
them human.

Craft says Gannett brass is searching
hard for a general manager, but that KTHV, like
the feline Joey, is in good hands with the current local
management. “We have the same corporate people over
our stations,” he says. “It’s really just business as usual.”
—additional reporting by Leslie Jaye Goff

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @StationBiz

What’s Working In Little Rock-Pine Bluff

“Family-friendly” isn’t something you typically hear associated with local news, but that’s the image KTHV, known locally as Today’s THV, is putting forth. The feline face of the Gannett station’s ethos is Joey, a stray cat station staffers essentially adopted after it was born under a restaurant adjacent to the station.

Joey has become a full-fledged celebrity, with an appearance on Animal Planet’s Must Love Cats in March. He sleeps either in a custombuilt house in KTHV’s “weather garden” or in a bed behind the set. “People who don’t like cats love Joey,” says David Craft, KTHV interim general manager. “The whole station takes care of him.”

Joey’s antics, such as tearing up a couch on the station’s morning news set, helps bring out the human side of the anchors. “He’s a great part of our brand,” says Craft. “It’s why people like us.” —MM

 

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