Local TV

'Mutual' Respect

Omaha market staying strong 7/05/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

The analog shutoff came and went without much agita in Omaha, report the market's general managers. The stations worked well together, with a number of soft tests prior to the June 12 shift, and the day passed with minimal trouble. “We had very few calls,” says KETV President/General Manager Sarah Smith. “It was a really cool effort to collectively serve the market.”

Life is indeed pretty cool in the No. 76 DMA. The market is home to entities as varied as Offutt Air Force Base and rich guy Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway firm, a sizable medical community, ConAgra Foods and, of course, Mutual of Omaha. While the television business may be down 8%-10%, station executives say they're getting through the recession in decent shape. Nebraska's largest city never saw the high economic spikes, they say, and a typically conservative mindset among residents has kept many from becoming overleveraged.

“I'm glad I'm in the center of the country,” says KPTM/KXVO General Manager Randy Oswald. “I think the center is a little less impacted than our friends in other markets.”

Hearst-Argyle's KETV had a strong May sweeps. The ABC affiliate won total day and primetime ratings, took morning news, and grabbed the late news (Monday through Friday) crown with a 13.7 household rating/28 share—just ahead of Gray Television's WOWT's 13/27. Evening news went to WOWT, the NBC outlet.

Smith uses the word “enterprising” to describe KETV's news. The station tends to look at the national issues of the day and focus them down to the local level. “We try to be topical and bring it home to viewers,” she says.

Among other Omaha players, Journal Broadcast owns the CBS affiliate, KMTV, and Pappas, as mandated by bankruptcy court, is selling Fox affiliate KPTM to a consortium of bankers. KPTM operates the Mitts-owned CW outlet KXVO through a marketing agreement, and both will be managed by TTBG LLC following the completion of the sale.

Oswald says he has gotten good vibes thus far from the pending owners. “I think they give their stations a great deal of latitude to make decisions,” he says.

KPTM pulled the plug earlier this year on the 4 p.m. news it had launched in the fall of 2007. And in a nod to the medical community, KETV will pair Dr. Oz with The Doctors come fall. KMTV plugs its news chops with its Taking Action branding. WOWT offers StormCall weather warnings delivered to phones, and interacts with viewers via Facebook and Twitter. “We work hard to connect with viewers on every touch point we possibly can,” says President/General Manager Charlie Peterson.

Managers say life is good in well-insulated eastern Nebraska. As Oswald says: “I feel real fortunate to live in the heartland.”

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michael.malone@reedbusiness.com

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