Market Eye: Drilling Deep for Viewers

Stations are a mix of established and upstart in booming Tulsa

The griffin stations are undeniable local television powers across Oklahoma, but Cox Media Group is intent on making a mark in the Tulsa market. Three years ago, Cox acquired KOKI-KMYT from Newport Television. A little more than two years ago, Greg Bilte, then director of sales at the Cox duo in the Bay Area, was given his first general manager job, atop Cox’s Tulsa stations. KOKI has embarked on a major mission to start winning in Tulsa, adding 4:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekday news, and another three hours each weekend morning.

“It’s a huge commitment,” says Bilte. “We have additional reporters on the street and have adopted a research-driven newscast that is doing very, very well.”

The research, from Frank N. Magid Associates, helped produce a “Covering News That Matters” branding statement for Fox affiliate KOKI. “It tested very well and has resonated with the audience,” says Bilte.

But make no mistake—Griffin, whose Tulsa holdings are CBS affiliate KOTV and CW outlet KQCW, is intensely serious about its guardian’s role in Tulsa and across the state in Oklahoma City. Griffin has a news helicopter in both markets and tag teams on severe weather, which is of course a part of life in Oklahoma. On April 1, KOTV added 4:30 a.m. news and slotted in two more hours on Saturday mornings and another hour on Sundays. “If you’re in the news game, you’ve got to have it,” Grffin COO and KOTV GM Rob Krier says of the expanded local presence.

0801_MarketEye_Chart.jpgKOTV is in a two-year-old facility overlooking downtown, with an open floor plan and state-of-the-art gear. It’s a vast improvement from the old space, housed in an International Harvester tractor building, which Krier acknowledges was a dreary home. “We were able to build this as a TV facility,” he says. “And there’s an advantage to being right in the heart of the city.”

Sinclair owns ABC affiliate KTUL, picked up in its Allbritton acquisition. Scripps has NBC outlet KJRH. LeSea has independent KWHB, which airs a mix of religious programming and family-friendly fare. The station has an enormous, 6,500-square-foot studio, shows ACC college sports and off-network fare such as Everybody Loves Raymond and The Andy Griffith Show. KWHB offers the classic TV hits channel Cozi TV on its dot-two channel. “We like it a lot,” says Dan Smith, general manager. “It seems to fit the marketplace.”

KWHB’s dot-three shows LeSea’s network World Harvest Television.

Cox has a broad and diversified portfolio in Tulsa. Besides the Fox and MyNetworkTV stations, it owns four major radio stations and the local cable operator. The TV outlets partner with Cox Cable on high school football and with their radio counterparts on news. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth with traffic and weather,” says Bilte.

KOTV pulled in an estimated $29.9 million in 2014 revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, ahead of KTUL’s $18.4 million, KOKI’s $16.3 million and KJRH’s $15.4 million.

KOTV rolls in the ratings. It ran the table in the May sweeps, including an 11.3 household rating/20.2 share at 6 p.m., ahead of KTUL’s 5.5/9.7, and put up a 12.2/21.2 at 10, topping KTUL’s 5.6/9.9. KOKI won 9 p.m. news.

Home to corporate biggies including energy outfit Williams Companies and the maintenance operations of American Airlines, Tulsa is in strong shape financially. It is Nielsen’s No. 60 DMA, but is No. 56 in terms of revenue. “Oil is not as big as it once was, but it’s still pretty big,” says Krier. “It’s just a steady market.”

The local TV business is robust, station GMs say, with tune-in high due to the threat of tornadoes. That means an advertiser’s message can truly permeate. Coming from KTVU Oakland, Bilte was constantly battling with locally based tech giants, including Facebook, for eyeballs and minds. It’s less of an issue in Tulsa. “Tulsa’s HUT [Houses Using Television] levels are great,” he says. “It’s a great market for local advertisers.”

KWHB’s Smith, who splits his time between LeSea stations in Tulsa and Colorado Springs, appreciates that the decision makers on the ad side are approachable. “Tulsa is not agencied-out,” he says. “You can talk to the car dealer, the people who make the decisions.”

Stations tackle weather in their own way. Besides getting an assist when needed from Griffin sibling KWTV Oklahoma City, KOTV has its “WARN Unit” corps of civilians pitching in. KOKI has “team weather,” split by its four meteorologists. “I put them up against anybody,” Bilte says.

That’s the prevailing mentality at KOKI. “We have the resources and support that’s almost unmatched by anybody,” says Bilte. “Viewers win because of it.”

MARKET GROWTH ‘OK’ WITH TULSA GMS

Tulsa is focused on retaining younger residents in the market—whether it’s keeping those who are graduating from college (the Chamber of Commerce’s “Project Boomerang” initiative makes sure students stay in the loop, in terms of what’s happening in their hometown, while they are away at school), or luring back those who departed when Tulsa’s tech sector cratered in the early aughts.

According to a story on KOTV’s NewsOn6.com, vacant warehouses have been renovated into restaurants and nightclubs, and new apartment buildings are popping up downtown. More than 25,000 jobs have been created in the last four years, the story reported.

BIA/Kelsey estimates the DMA will add more than 50,000 residents by 2019—modest population growth, but growth nonetheless. “There’s a lot of good things happening in Tulsa,” says Rob Krier, Griffin Communications COO and general manager at KOTV.

There’s a far different vibe in the Oklahoma heartland than Greg Bilte, KOKI-KMYT general manager, experienced at his previous post with KTVU-KICU Oakland. “People are very friendly,” he says. “And traffic is not a problem.”