What Happens in Vegas

After bottoming out, market’s luck may be turning corner
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Few if any markets took a harder shot to the chops the last few years than Las Vegas. The desert oasis’ otherworldly growth stalled under the weight of crushing unemployment and a home foreclosure rate as high as the Stratosphere that looms over the Strip.

Things are looking better, if only a bit. “The market is still struggling with very high unemployment, and construction has just fallen off a cliff,” says Emily Neilson, president/general manager of KLAS. “It’s too early to see what next year will be like. It’s a long, slow climb back up.”

The local economy is driven by tourism and not much else. Station general managers say hotel bookings in Vegas are up, but visitors are playing it safe and holding back on their gambling. But the Cosmopolitan Hotel, a major addition to the Strip, opened Dec. 16 (it has a raucous New Year’s Eve bash in the works). Locals see the new hotel as another sign that better days are coming.

“That’s another pop in the market,” says Darrin McDonald, KVVU VP/general manager.

KLAS gets the lion’s share of news pops in the market. Neilson, a 31-year veteran of the Landmark-owned station, says KLAS thrives on hard-hitting investigative reporting—the outlet won a 2009 Peabody for the special “Crossfire: Water, Power and Politics”—and its full-scale multi-platform approach. “Breaking news and enterprise reporting on three screens,” is how Neilson describes it. “We have a lot of investigative in all our newscasts.”

The CBS affiliate had a monster November sweeps, winning total-day household ratings, primetime, early evening and late news, the latter with a 5.7 HH rating/12 share, well ahead of Journal Broadcast-owned KTNV’s 3.5/7. Sunbelt Communications’ KSNV, which switched its call letters from KVBC this year, won morning news with its Wake Up With the Wagners.

KSNV is an NBC affiliate; KTNV is aligned with ABC. Meredith owns Fox affiliate KVVU, and Sinclair has CW-MyNetworkTV duopoly KVCW-KVMY. Spanish-language options include Telemundo’s KBLR and Entravision’s KINC, a Univision affiliate with strong news.

The stations are innovating. KVVU added a 4:30 a.m. news last January and is building a high definition-friendly set to launch local HD in 2011. The early-evening version of KVVU’s More franchise, More Access, airs at 6 p.m.

KSNV is also live with news at 4:30 a.m. The outlet launched political talker Face to Face WithJon Ralston early this year. “It’s a great platform, especially during the political [season],” says Lisa Howfi eld, KSNV VP/ GM. “I can’t think of a [local] candidate who didn’t come on.”

KTNV plays up its hard-news chops with an “Action News” brand and “You Ask, We Investigate” franchise. But, true to its character, KLAS outdid its rivals by launching a 4 a.m. news in January; Neilson notes the percentage of households using television (HUT) in Vegas at that hour is 22.

Next fall, KLAS will replace Oprah Winfrey in its unique 2 p.m. timeslot with The Talk. The station has 11 community news sites that it has partnered with DataSphere on. Neilson says serving content to digital platforms is standard operating procedure at KLAS: “Everybody has responsibility across three screens,” she says.

Vegas residents say it’s about time their luck turned around. “One of the strengths of Las Vegas is that sense of optimism,” says KSNV’s Howfi eld. “But we have to get people back to work.”

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

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