New Metrics in Texas

Local people meters energize a competitive news market

It has been a good year for news broadcasting in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, which overtook Boston this year to become the country's 6th-largest. Business is robust, and the introduction of Nielsen's local people meters (LPMs) last December has revealed a tightening and profitable race.

Last year, stations took in $662.3 million in revenue, according to BIA Financial. Political advertising, however, was unexpectedly light this season. “This being Bush country, they thought they had it pretty much wrapped up,” says Steve Mauldin, president/general manager of CBS-owned KTVT.

Advertising also took a blow with the consolidation of Macy's and Foley's department stores. But thanks to a steady auto market and growing Internet revenues, the market has held. And the arrival of LPMs has “tightened up the market,” Mauldin says. “It is becoming more and more a 52-week mentality.”

KTVT and Belo Corp.'s ABC affiliate WFAA have been slugging it out for the 6 p.m. news. With an Oprah Winfrey Show lead-in, WFAA claimed the No. 1 slot in October, with a 5.6 rating/14 share. But KTVT was hot on its heels, posting a 5/11. The station has seen its fortunes rise since poaching Wheel of Fortune from WFAA and airing it at 6:30 p.m., after the newscast. “Don't ever knock the lead-out,” says Mauldin.

NBC-owned KXAS has won in late news “going on six years,” says News Manager Susan Tully, but greater demographic reporting from the LPMs may change that. “We've learned and adapted to be a stronger demo station” as a result, Tully explains. “We really think that women hold the remote control.”

For its part, WFAA has embraced the LPMs. “To see every day exactly what the numbers are, we find exciting,” says Dave Muscari, WFAA VP of product development. “We're pretty much in a dead heat with KXAS at 10 p.m. [posting an 8/14 versus its rival's 8.4/15 in October], and ABC prime-strengthening has certainly helped our ratings as well.”

Fox-owned KDFW, Tribune Broadcasting's CW affiliate KDAF, and CBS-owned independent KTXA flesh out the rest of the English-language news broadcasts. Although CBS owns half of The CW, former UPN affiliate KTXA lost out in The CW's affiliate sweepstakes.

KTXA has decided to go hyper-local, counter-programming with local news seven days a week in the 7-9 p.m. slot, along with heavy sports coverage, thanks to the Dallas Mavericks, Big 12 basketball and Texas high school football.

Both KTXA and KTVT's newscasts are available on-demand with Time Warner Cable. Constant local news is also available on WFAA's digital weather-and-news station Express 8.2, as well as on all the stations' Websites.

The ABC station also fields a fee-based mobile service called My8tv (unrelated to News Corp.'s MyNetworkTV), which provides weather, news and traffic information to cellphones.

In the past year, newsrooms have embraced the value of their Websites, both financially and journalistically.

“The Web is an important strategic plank,” says WFAA's Muscari. “We've got a very active Web-sales staff and Internet team. Having a significant Internet presence strengthens the brand.”

KXAS' Tully says the Web has transformed her station's approach to disseminating its news: “We're used to holding it for 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 10 p.m. But now we just can't hold back.”

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