Market Eye: 'Refined' Tastes in SE Texas

New GMs, new owner raise the bar in Beaumont–Port Arthur
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Change does not come frequently to longtime southeast Texas market leader KFDM Beaumont. Until fairly recently, all the people running key departments, including sales, news and engineering, had been in place for 30-plus years. General manager Larry Beaulieu had been at KFDM for 37 years, and had also served as a news anchor. (Yes, the GM was the 6 p.m. anchor, too. Such is life in DMA No. 141.)

The wheels of change started rolling when Beaulieu retired last September. In November, Freedom Broadcasting, owner of the CBS affiliate since 1984, was acquired by Sinclair. In December, longtime general sales manager Rix Garey was upped to general manager.

Through it all, KFDM, where the branding reads “You Can Count On Us,” has maintained its primacy. “People have been counting on us for 50-plus years,” says Garey. “The community looks to KFDM when stuff happens.”

KFDM is not the only southeast Texas station experiencing upheaval. Bruce Cummings took over KBMT in March. Cummings is enjoying poking around the Texas-Louisiana border. “It’s a real gem here in southeast Texas,” he says. “People are fabulous—polite, welcoming, warm. To a person, it’s been, ‘Hey, what can I do to help?’”

KBTV boss Darren Lehrmann is a graybeard among Beaumont GMs, recently marking his two-year anniversary.

Beaumont–Port Arthur features a robust economy. While Nielsen lists it at No. 141, it’s No. 136 in revenue, per BIA/Kelsey. It’s all about energy here; KFDM stands for Kall For Dependable Magnolene, a nod to a former owner’s brand of motor oil. The Keystone Pipeline debate is closely watched, as the proposed expansion would run from Oklahoma to Port Arthur. Refineries are everywhere.

Time Warner Cable is the dominant subscription TV operator. Stations include Nexstar’s Fox af! liate KBTV and Blue Bonnet’s MyNetworkTV (MNT) outlet KUIL; KBMT manages the latter through a local marketing agreement. As often happens in smaller markets, major networks air as multicasts. KFDM has The CW on its .2. London Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate KBMT has NBC on its .2, while KUIL began airing Me-TV on its subchannel earlier this year.

KFDM doubles its nearest competitor, KBMT, in most ratings races; it won the February sweeps’ late news contest with a 16 household rating/34 share, ahead of KBMT’s 6/12. KFDM’s 6 p.m. news posted an ostentatious 41 share.

The market made the network news programs after a March 14 shooting at a county courthouse left one dead and several wounded. “That was a big deal in Beaumont,” says Garey.

The region isn’t likely to see much political advertising, but its stable local economy should make for a positive 2012. “The way it’s pacing, I think it will be a great year,” says Cummings.

Stations are doing all they can to grab ratings points. KBMT is part of a statewide news network with its sibling London stations. KUIL, known as MYTX, supplements MNT fare with local sports. KBTV added a 5:30 p.m. news in January 2011, and has its studios at the Parkdale Mall. “It’s glass all around,” says Lehrmann. “We’re fish in a fishbowl.”

All parties are curious how adding broadcast giant Sinclair will affect the local scene. Garey says he is pumped to have a “pure broadcaster” at the helm. “I think we might see more resources because they are a larger player,” he says. “At Freedom, there were eight [stations]. Now there are 76 or so. I think it will be good for us.”

Rivals say Sinclair’s incursion will be good for them, too. “They’re a very good television company, and we’re going to have to step up our game,” says Lehrmann. “It’s going to increase the competition here, that’s for sure.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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