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Houston Life After Ike

Furniture, car sales boom following hurricane 1/16/2009 07:00:00 PM Eastern

While Galveston remains pocked with damage and debris, life is mostly back to normal in Houston following Hurricane Ike's September devastation. Parts of the market lost power for anywhere from three days to three weeks, but sets are again tuned to the local stations.

While station managers say revenue was down a bit for 2008, and not looking better for 2009, the No. 10 DMA continues to grow. Managers are happy to share a study that shows 54,000 new jobs added to the Houston market from November 2007 to November 2008, tops in the country, as people flock to the city for work in energy, aeronautics and shipping.

“Obviously we're not untouched by the national economy,” says KTRK President/General Manager Henry Florsheim. “But the Houston economy remains pretty robust.”

Real estate has long been seen as reasonably priced in Houston, which meant there was no bubble to burst. Home prices have stayed flat year-to-date. “It's taking people longer to sell their homes, but they're getting the price they set out to get,” says KIAH VP/General Manager Roger Bare.

One silver lining from Ike is a boom in furniture and auto sales, as residents went into “replacement mode,” as one GM put it, after Ike roared through. Local chain Finger Furniture is in the process of rebranding its stores under the Ashley Furniture name, and Rooms To Go is making inroads in greater Houston. Both are spending to get their message out, and benefiting from post-Ike demand. “It's good timing and dumb luck with the furniture industry here,” says KRIV/KTXH VP/General Manager D'Artagnan Bebel.

Ratings are a dogfight, with Belo's CBS outlet KHOU and ABC O&O KTRK splitting the spoils. KHOU won total day household ratings and late news in November, while KTRK took primetime, mornings and evenings. Florsheim cites “the most news resources on the street”; KHOU President/General Manager Susan McEldoon is pleased to report growth at 5 a.m. and the emergence of The Doctors at 3 p.m.

Other players include Post-Newsweek's NBC affiliate KPRC, Fox duopoly KRIV/KTXH, Tribune's CW outlet KIAH, and Univision's KXLN. Comcast is the big cable operator, and Fox Sports Houston launched a 24-hour local program feed last week.

But Houston is among the nation's least prepared markets for the DTV switch, with a high number of elderly and foreign residents. While a third of the market is Hispanic, Houston also has high numbers of other ethnic groups, such as Chinese. Stations ran a marketwide test Jan. 6.

Stations are also working to set themselves apart. KXLN pulls a big prime audience with the novela Cuidado con el Angel. KTRK is building its mobile content business. KRIV partnered with Habitat for Humanity for a “12 Days of Christmas” campaign that delivered food and gifts to families in need. KPRC recently launched the microsite JustWeather.com and digital channel This TV. “We're getting a lot of calls from viewers who've discovered This TV,” says KPRC VP/General Manager Larry Blackerby.

KIAH expanded its 9 p.m. news, and KHOU's morning show visits Galveston's downtown Strand district in March to check in on the recovery. “We'll take Great Day Houston on the road,” says McEldoon, “and do five shows from there.”

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