Market Eye: Big Change in Little Rock | @BCMikeMalone

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The goings-on are highly “volatile” these days, in the words of one general manager, in typically staid Little Rock-Pine Bluff, Ark. There are anchor departures and market leader changes, and few areas have experienced the ongoing trend of consolidation as much as central Arkansas. “There’s been a lot of change in a market that has not seen much change in a generation,” says Mike Vaughn, VP and general manager at KARK-KARZ. “Everyone in town has had to embrace change.”

In 2012, Mission Broadcasting, closely aligned with Nexstar, bought Fox affiliate KLRT and CW outlet KASN from Newport. Early in 2013, the pair moved into a new downtown facility with Nexstar stations KARKKARZ, which air NBC and MyNetworkTV, following a few dozen layoffs.

Bounce TV also airs out of Nexstar’s facility. Unlike many duopolies, KARK and KLRT keep distinct news brands. “They tell different stories to different audiences in a different way,” says Vaughn.

It remains a lively news operation. “They still produce a boatload of news,” says Doug Krile, executive director of the Arkansas Broadcasters Association.

CBS affiliate KTHV is owned by Gannett, which is acquiring the Belo group. The station rebranded in February, swapping its longtime “Today’s THV” brand for “THV 11.” Michael Caplan, president and general manager, says the station has “a fresher look and feel” now.

Liz Massey, KTHV anchor at 5, 6 and 10 p.m., departed the station on Oct. 3.

KATV’s About-’Face’

Allbritton’s KATV tapped KTHV newsroom vet Nick Genty as news director in 2011, and Genty set out to fix mornings. Pairing former KTHV anchor Alyson Courtney with weekend sports guy Chris Kane, a.m. took off, and the rest of the day followed. A social media push, which saw KATV grow its Facebook followers from 15,000 to more than 120,000 in a couple years, helped too. “We’re getting viewers involved in what we do,” Genty says.

Sinclair is acquiring Allbritton, which may affect KATV. “Obviously there’s going to be some changes,” Krile says.

KATV and KTHV were neck and neck in total-day household ratings in the May sweeps. KATV won morning and early evening news and grabbed the 10 p.m. crown with an 11 household rating/24.5 share, ahead of KTHV’s 7.8/17.1. KTHV won primetime.

Comcast is DMA No. 56’s main pay-TV operator. Little Rock is home to the African- American-targeted Soul of the South channel, which operates from Equity Broadcasting’s former facility and plans to acquire indie KMYA. KATV was the market’s revenue leader in 2012, per BIA/Kelsey, its estimated $23.1 million ahead of KTHV’s $19.3 million.

Little Rock’s capital status means a stable economy and lots of news. Rivers and mountains are not far away. “I don’t know that you could want much more of the outdoor lifestyle than you have here,” says Caplan.

Time will tell how the ownership grabs affect the pecking order. “The six-month snapshot of what the market will look like,” says Vaughn, “will probably be dramatically different than it is now.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.