A Tangle in TexasIn tech-savvy Houston, two stations slug it out for top billing 1/24/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Houston stations will be getting an infusion of new blood in the weeks and
months ahead. KPRC VP/General Manager Larry Blackerby shifted to Indianapolis
to run WRTV at the beginning of the year; Post-Newsweek had not
announced his successor at press time. Nor had KHOU picked the person to
follow executive news director Keith Connors, who like
Blackerby is now in the Hoosier State after taking over
the newsroom at WTHR on Jan. 12.
Given KHOU’s hard-news chops,
Connors’ replacement will be a key hire
for the Belo station. “Our investigative
work is second to none,” says Susan
McEldoon, KHOU president/GM. “It’s
what viewers expect from us.”
Indeed, robust and journalistically
sound local news has been a cornerstone
of KHOU’s emergence; McEldoon
defines the brand as “telling important
stories that need to be told.” The CBS
affiliate needs to be on top of its game
to compete with ABC-owned KTRK,
and it’s been doing just that.
The stations are in a slugfest. KTRK
took the morning and early-evening
news races in the November sweeps
and won total-day household ratings
by a slim margin. KTRK also grabbed
primetime on the back of CBS’ rocking
network schedule. KHOU took the late
news race in households, its 7.3 rating/
14 share ahead of KTRK’s 6.2/11.
But KTRK won the adults 25-54 race at 10 p.m.
KHOU and KTRK have increased their revenue share
over the last few years, at the expense of other area stations.
The two leaders were within a percentage point of each
other in revenue share for 2009, the last year for which
BIA/Kelsey has breakdowns. KHOU was slightly ahead.
Rounding out the No. 10 DMA are the Fox-owned
duopoly KRIV–KTXH, Tribune’s CW affiliate KIAH and
Post-Newsweek’s NBC affiliate KPRC. According to BIA/
Kelsey, 34% of the population in Houston is of Hispanic
origin, and there’s a host of Spanish-language options
on the dial. Among them, Univision owns KXLN and
KFTH, Telemundo owns KTMD and Liberman Broadcasting
has Estrella TV affiliate KZJL.
KXLN, or “Univision 45”, is well-established in the market,
claiming around 10% of the revenue with strong showings
in 5 and 10 p.m. news. It marks its 35th anniversary
this year. Univision also owns five local radio stations, including
“Estereo Latino” (Regional Mexican) outlet KLTN.
Comcast is the martket’s top subscription-TV operator.
Stations are shaking things up in an effort to get ahead.
KRIV launched a 4 a.m. news last April and moved TMZ
to 6 p.m. the second week of January, pushing The Office to late fringe. “We think there’s a nice fit there,” says
D’Artagnan Bebel, KRIV–KTXH VP and general manager.
KIAH had aimed to launch its much ballyhooed News-
Fix program in January, an unorthodox news format that
does not feature an anchor on the set. The launch date
now looks like February, and parent Tribune will be
watching the show carefully.
Roger Bare, KIAH VP/GM, did not return calls seeking
comment. But a few months ago, Lee Abrams, then Tribune’s
chief innovation officer, told the Houston Chronicle
something needed to be done to shake up news in Houston—
and elsewhere. “There are too many stations with
established news programming, heritage and resources to
compete effectively by presenting essentially the same format,”
Abrams told Chronicle reporter David Barron. “[The]
time seems to be right to leave the traditional approach to
those who do it best and try something very different.”
KHOU has a big decision to make as to what to do
when Oprah Winfrey departs broadcast TV this fall. McEldoon
has hinted that the solution might be a mix of local
news and an acquired program to fill the vital 60-minute
lead-in to early-evening news. “It could be a combination,”
she says. “We’re discussing several options.”
KTRK is, like many other area broadcasters,
deploying an ambitious digital agenda.
The station produces the women’s lifestyle
and fashion program Mirror/Mirror for the
ABC owned group’s Live Well Network, and
also features local high school sports on the
digital tier. KTRK was first out of the box in
the market with an iPad app in the iTunes
store, offering tablet users breaking news,
weather and sports on the go. “Our news
app offers quick and easy access to our online
news content,” a KTRK spokesperson notes.
KPRC, meanwhile, blankets the weather
category with its JustWeather.com microsite.
In 2010, the station displayed its investigative
chops with a year-long “Operation Price
Check” report, which focused on a local grocery
store that was repeatedly failing to deliver
advertised discounts to customers.
Houston’s economy is holding up well. The
market escaped the last hurricane season in
one piece, and winter has so far been mostly
temperate. Houston is of course the oil industry’s
home base, and that business tends to keep the
region insulated when much of the rest of the country
is feeling downward pressure. “Things are healthy,” says
McEldoon. “I think Houston is doing better than much
of the country—it tends to buck the [economic] trends.”
That translates well to local television. General managers
say automotive, telecommunications and movie
advertising are all up, filling much of the gap vacated by
political advertising late last year. “It’s on an upswing,”
says Bebel. “Overall, the market is rebounding.”