Stripped Down

Sin City scrambles to regain luster
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Right now, Las Vegas is like a high-roller making a reluctant trip to the cash machine. His luck might be down, but it'd be unwise to count him out.

Sin City has been the happy recipient of unfathomable population growth over the last decade, but it's been hit by the housing crisis just about as hard as any city in America. “Investors came in with no money down,” says KLAS General Manager Emily Neilson. “When things got tough, they just walked away.”

The population surge is flatlining, and tourism is ailing. Moreover, those who are turning up for stays at the fabled properties on the glittering Strip—the MGM Grand, Mandalay Bay—are keeping themselves on a shorter leash at the gambling tables. Many are also skipping lavish meals out; some hotels report guests returning to their rooms with grocery bags holding dinner.

Vegas is feeling the pinch. “The city is built on tourism,” says KVBC General Manager Lisa Howfield. “We really don't have a second industry to hold us up.”

There are bright spots. The 10-day jamboree known as National Finals Rodeo concluded Dec. 13, bringing 120 cowboys and thousands of spectators to Vegas. Despite some labor stoppages, construction continues on the CityCenter project, a massive collection of upmarket casinos, hotels, shops, residences and restaurants that's located between the Bellagio and Excalibur and is to be completed next year. “Hopefully, it leads to positive things for the local economy,” says KTNV General Manager Jim Prather.

KLAS had an exceptionally bright November sweeps. Owner Landmark recently pulled the CBS affiliate off the for-sale block, and KLAS' recent performance has to make the parent smile. It had a killer primetime performance—CSI, set in Vegas, pulled a whopping 19.2 household rating—and rode that to a win in late news, too, ahead of KVBC. KLAS also won in the 5 p.m. news race, while KVBC won at 6.

Sunbelt owns KVBC, an NBC affiliate. Journal Communications owns ABC outlet KTNV, Meredith has Fox affiliate KVVU, and Sinclair has a CW-MyNetworkTV duopoly in KVCW and KVMY. Cox is the dominant cable operator.

Much as the monolithic casinos have to come up with innovative hooks to get punters in the door, Vegas stations offer unique ways to draw in new residents. KVBC.com has financial news from Sunbelt's new NVMoneyMatters.com site. Operating out of a new facility, KTNV has former KVBC anchor Nina Radetich at 6 and 11 p.m., and recently launched the digital channel Mexicanal. KLAS is hitting big numbers with its mobile application; Neilson says the Las Vegas Now program for cellphones and PDAs gets more than 300,000 page views a month.

KVVU, whose red-hot morning news leads into Meredith's product-integration-friendly More and Better programs, recently started a viewer loyalty program called Fox5Rewards.com. “You earn points by watching, and can use the points to shop,” says VP/General Manager Darrin McDonald. “It's like an airline's frequent flier program.”

Vegas may be going through a rough spell, but as any veteran card sharp knows, luck can turn around pretty quickly here. “It's a tough time for our market,” Neilson says, “but I'd much rather be here than in other markets when the recovery happens.”

Next: Hartford-New Haven, CT

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