Market Eye: Frozen Assets

The frigid weather is upon Anchorage, but everything else about the DMA is hot

Why This Matters

What’s Working in Anchorage

Fixing the former KIMO was nothing short of an extreme makeover. Early last year, the owners changed the call letters to KYUR, a play on the “Your Alaska Link” branding shared by KYUR, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau, all ABC affiliates, and their website. (Station braintrust initially considered “KYAL”, but felt “YAL” sounded a bit too Southern.)

The station went HD in September 2010 to coincide with a major Alaska happening—Bristol Palin’s appearance on Dancing With the Stars. The station used to have seven people in the newsroom, said Scott Centers, COO of Coastal Television, which operates KYUR; now it has 20. What was 12 hours of news a week is now 30.

Next month, KYUR debuts a 10 p.m. news and what Centers called “stories of special interest,” airing out of a new downtown studio. “We’ve had a good start,” he said. “It takes good quality people and it takes money.” —MM

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The mercury may be fighting to climb above zero, but things are heating
up in the Anchorage, Alaska, television world. The CBS affiliate is being
acquired. The ABC affiliate has a new news strategy and call letters. And
the annual state legislature session is poised to begin in capital Juneau,
about 850 miles away, giving the TV newsrooms plenty to cover.

Through it all, KTUU thrives. Andy MacLeod, president
and general manager, is taking the shakeups at the
competition in stride. “Any time there’s change in the
marketplace, there’s some concern,” he said. “But more
competition makes things better, and we see a rising
tide lifting all boats.”

MacLeod was named GM last year after joining the
station in 1983. “We’ve seen it before,” he said of the
shifting dynamics. “We’ll see it again.”

In mid-November, Denali Media Holdings, a subsidiary
of Alaska telecommunications giant General Communication
Inc. (GCI), agreed to acquire KTVA Anchorage, along
with NBC affiliates KATH Juneau and KSCT Sitka, from
Alaska Broadcasting Company/Media News Group. Ron
Duncan, GCI president, spoke at the time of transforming
the stations into “an entertainment leader unparalleled”
across the state. “We look at these purchases as the first
step toward providing a new statewide platform for news
and information,” he added, “as well as providing unique
content and value for GCI’s video subscribers.”

The deal awaits regulatory approval, which is expected
to come in the first quarter.

CBS affiliate KTVA looks to grab some of longtime
leader KTUU’s special sauce; John Tracy, former 20-year
news director at KTUU, was named a consultant in the
rebuilding of the acquired stations’ news departments.
GCI spokesperson David Morris referred to Tracy as “the
Walter Cronkite of Alaska news,” and said priorities at
KTVA include local HD, a new studio and potential programming
synergies with the new parent, such as newscasts
on-demand. The acquisition will also increase KTVA’s
advertising clout. “There are a number of synergies regarding
ad opportunities and ad revenue,” Morris said. “It will
offer greater reach to our advertising base.”

It will take a major push to unseat KTUU. Schurz
bought the NBC affiliate for $26 million in 2008, adding
its rich journalism heritage to KTUU’s own. In August,
the station expanded the daily Channel 2 Morning Edition
from 90 minutes to two hours. The station also showcases
major-market news chops in its quarterly series The 49th
. Part documentary and part investigative journalism,
49th Report goes deep on social issues facing Alaskans,
such as the state’s alarming suicide rate. “It’s the premiere
platform for in-depth journalism that can’t fit into
a traditional newscast,” said Tracy Sabo, news director.

KTUU’s ratings advantage is glaring. The station
posted a 14.5 household rating/41.2 share at 10 p.m.
in May, ahead of KTVA’s 2.7/7.6. Early evenings were a
similar story: KTUU at 11.9/39.5 at 5 p.m., and KTVA
at 1.4/4.7. KTUU also won mornings and total-day ratings,
while KTVA was best in prime.

Other players in the market include Vision Alaska’s
ABC affiliate KYUR, operated by Coastal Television
Broadcasting, and Coastal’s Fox affiliate KTBY. KYUR
was formerly known as KIMO, a reference to “Eskimo”
that had become dated. Scott Centers, COO
of Coastal Television, said the new call letters spell a
“fresh approach” for KYUR. “We’ve improved ratings,
though we’re not where we want to be yet,” he said.

KYUR has The CW on its dot-two. Fireweed Communications
owns MyNetworkTV affiliate KYES. GCI
is the main cable operator in Anchorage.

KTUU almost doubled its biggest challenger’s revenue
in 2011, according to BIA/Kelsey, with an estimated $11.5
million, ahead of KTVA’s $6.5 million. BIA ranks Anchorage
at an impressive No. 119 in terms of revenue.

Rich in natural resources, the market is growing at a
Vegas-like pace, rising from No. 150 two years ago to
No. 145 this year, and more people means more business.
The opening of Alaska’s first Olive Garden restaurant
earlier this year in Anchorage was seen as a symbol
that the market had arrived. “For the past three to five
years, our economy has looked very solid,” MacLeod
said, “better than most of the rest of the U.S.”

Winter is well under way in Anchorage—snowfall
through November was light, but residents woke up to
temperatures at or below zero some mornings.

The stations will have to work hard to pull the new
arrivals away from KTUU. KTBY debuts a Sunday-night
political show in January. But KTUU is a mighty force in
Anchorage, and cements that bond with viewers with a
quarterly community forum program called One Alaska.

“We truly believe we are Alaska’s news source,” Sabo
said. “We are the place people turn to for their daily
information, and their vital information. Our news department
lives to serve viewers every day.”

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