Market Eye: Sparking High-Energy Coverage

Houston stations put market’s riches back into news operations
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With an enviably diverse economy that goes well beyond its trademark energy base, Houston was, by several accounts, last in and first out of the recession. Nielsen’s No. 10 DMA is an impressive No. 6 on BIA/Kelsey’s revenue list, and TV revenue is pacing a few percentage points ahead of last year’s robust performance. “It’s arguably the healthiest local economy in the country,” says Roger Baird, KIAH VP and general manager.

The Houston TV market is one of the nation’s finest. ABC-owned KTRK and Belo’s KHOU have waged a tight battle for years, while Post- Newsweek’s KPRC has made major strides under new leadership. “The viewers are the winners,” says Susan McEldoon, president and general manager at KHOU, a CBS affiliate. “There are three really outstanding stations that deliver real good product consistently.”

Make that four: Univision’s KXLN is, in the words of a rival GM, a “dominant, dominant station.” KXLN changed its tagline six months ago to “The Leader Regardless of Language” (from “Together We Make the Difference”). “It’s a fact that we are proud of, and thought it should be part of our slogan,” says David Loving, senior VP/general manager of KXLN.

Univision has a duopoly in KXLN and Uni- Más sibling KFTH. So does Fox, with KRIV and MyNetworkTV station KTXH. Tribune owns CW affiliate KIAH. Telemundo has KTMD and Liberman has Estrella TV station KZJL. Comcast is Houston’s dominant subscription TV operator.

KTRK, KHOU and KPRC sent reporters to Rome for the papal appointment, and the major stations were well represented in Boston during the marathon bombings too. Closer to home was the fertilizer plant explosion and serious flooding in late April. “It’s been a very intense news period, and we’ve been very aggressive,” says Henry Florsheim, president and GM at KTRK.

KTRK won the major English-language news races in the February sweeps, including 10 p.m. with a 6.3 household rating/11.3 share—ahead of KHOU’s 6.1/11. KHOU won primetime. KTRK’s Florsheim credits experience and consistency in his newsroom for the wins. “Viewers trust and rely on us and know we have covered the market well for a long time,” he says.

The stations are trying new strategies. KPRC has Deborah Collura, Post-Newsweek VP of news, running its own news operation. Collura is pushing promotables every night. “They’re the stories you only find on KPRC,” says Jerry Martin, VP and general manager. “We promote them heavily, and they seem to have made a difference.”

KIAH began promoting Arsenio Hall’s September arrival in February, coinciding with African- American History Month. KXLN introduced a new set in April and has a new Sunday current events show, Conexion Texas, that is shared with other Univision stations across the state.

KHOU grabbed local sports icon Bob Allen, who ended almost four decades at KTRK in January, re-introducing him to viewers April 24. McEldoon says the timing is perfect. “Having someone of Bob’s caliber is terrific,” she says.

KHOU also has new faces in its weather team, with David Paul named chief meteorologist at the beginning of the year. KRIV has a big name at 5 p.m. in Don Teague, a veteran of both NBC News and CBS News. The Fox station, which skews African- American and Hispanic, offers franchise segments that include Fox Face Off, good deeds-focused Faith in Action, and Hometown Fridays, which sees the Fox26 team set up in a different community each Friday during sweeps months. “I want us to be out in the community more,” says D’Artagnan Bebel, KRIV VP and general manager.

Several stations are using Rentrak to get another perspective on the tight ratings race. “It’s a lot more competitive than it was two years ago,” says Martin. “It’s a much closer battle.”

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

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