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Great Salt Lake

New faces among SLC residents, stations 7/25/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Drawn to family values and a rich quality of life, new arrivals are flocking to Salt Lake City. The No. 35 DMA gained more than 230,000 residents in the last five years, and BIA Financial forecasts a similar influx for the next five. Many of them having glimpsed Salt Lake's natural beauty during the 2002 Winter Olympics, the arrivals are drawn to the Wasatch Mountains and all the outdoor activity surrounding them.

“Someone described Salt Lake City to me as what people in New York think Denver is,” says KTVX/KUCW VP/General Manager Matt Jaquint, referring to the close proximity of the mountains to the city.

Salt Lake is, of course, the base for America's Mormon population, but some say the Mormon presence is declining as so many new faces, many Hispanic, move in. By some estimates, that population has shrunk from 70% to around half in recent years.

The Olympics also meant the city updated its infrastructure, including improved highways, which literally paved the way for the newcomers.

The newbies include station owners; Salt Lake has seen an uncommon number of transactions of late. CBS closed on dealing KUTV to Four Points Media in January, Clear Channel sold KTVX and KUCW to Sandy DiPasquale's Newport Television in April, and DiPasquale flipped the duopoly to High Plains Broadcasting due to FCC ownership limits. Local TV closed on its purchase of former Fox O&O KSTU in mid-July.

“People had been [speculating] about KSL being sold, but the ABC, the CBS and the Fox [stations] all sold in the last 18 months,” says KSL VP/General Manager Greg James. (NBC affiliate KSL is owned by Bonneville International, whose parent is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)

The market is expected to book $175.4 million this year, per BIA. KSL led last year with $45.9 million, ahead of KUTV's $31.9 million, KSTU's $29.8 million and KTVX's $25.9 million. Other players include Larry H. Miller Broadcasting's KJZZ, which becomes independent when KCSG takes over the MyNetworkTV affiliation Aug. 18. The major cable provider is Comcast.

The ratings race is close. The Big Four finished within a point of each other in household total day ratings in May, with KUTV top of the heap. KSTU won prime, KSL had the top late news, KUTV won evenings and KUTV barely beat KSTU in mornings.

The new faces provide fresh perspective. Formerly the GM at WNDU South Bend, Ind., Jaquint is looking to overhaul KTVX's underperforming news, and on Aug. 18 will move ABC's national news from 5 to 5:30 and slot local news in at 5. KTVX is also scrapping a 4 p.m. news and moving Ellen into that slot. Jaquint admiringly calls KTVX's 10 a.m. show, Good Things Utah, “real television.”

KSL also has a locally produced morning show, airing Studio 5 at 11. Its Web traffic is the envy of just about every station in America; KSL.com did a staggering 131 million page views in June, thanks largely to a booming online classifieds model that's been in place for 11 years. “We pre-date Craigslist,” says James, who adds that the Website makes “a few million a year.”

Station managers dig Salt Lake's scenic views, and also enjoy being in a growth market. Says Jaquint: “This could be a Top 30 market in the next five years.”

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