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Market Eye: Big Two in Big Ten Market

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KETV is a ratings and revenue juggernaut in Omaha, Neb., but a big change is coming to the market. Sarah Smith, KETV president and general manager since 2007 and a winner of 2010 “General Manager of the Year” honors in B&C, is moving on Sept. 6 to the top spot at Hearst Television sibling KMBC-KCWE Kansas City.

No replacement had been named at presstime, and KETV’s rivals are curious to see how the leadership change will affect business in DMA No. 76. “They’re going to be aggressive, no matter who takes the helm,” says Charlie Peterson, president and general manager at WOWT and a regional vice president at Gray Television.

It’s a two-horse race right now, and KETV is ahead by a few lengths. The Hearst TV station won total day household ratings and primetime in the May sweeps; the latter accomplishment is fairly uncommon for an ABC affiliate. KETV also won morning and 6 p.m. news, and its 13.6 household rating/28 share at 10 p.m. topped NBC affiliate WOWT’s 11.4/24. WOWT was best at 5 p.m.

KETV led the revenue pack in 2010, according to BIA/ Kelsey, its $24.5 million ahead of WOWT’s $18.2 million.

Rounding out the Omaha TV market are Journal Broadcast Group’s CBS affiliate KMTV, Titan Broadcast Management’s Fox affiliate KPTM and Mitts Broadcasting’s CW outlet KXVO, which KPTM manages. KPTM has a fairly new general manager, with Jeff Miller coming on last year for the retired Randy Oswald.

Chris Sehring arrived at KMTV in December to manage the TV station and five local radio outlets. He says everything will be under one roof within a year or so. Sehring is also retooling KMTV’s news operation. “We’re taking one step at a time in trying to build a stronger news product,” he says. “We’re taking advantage of the CBS lead-in and maximizing the power of the five radio stations.”

Cox is the major subscription TV service in Omaha, which is a Nielsen diary market. Situated at the Nebraska– Iowa border, Omaha’s major employers include ConAgra Foods and major medical outlets and universities. Earlier this summer, the University of Nebraska officially became part of the Big Ten Conference; with rabid local interest in Cornhusker sports, the move was a huge local story.

The market is home to mega-billionaire Warren Buffett, who made headlines in August with a New York Times Op- Ed piece seeking to raise taxes for the über-wealthy. Buffett used to shoot interviews at WOWT’s studio next door to his office, but has since sprung for his own facility.

General managers say the Omaha economy has held up extremely well amid recent challenges; Nebraska’s unemployment rate, at 4.1% and falling as of July, is the envy of dozens of states. “We were not hit real hard by the recession,” says Peterson.

Smith says KETV has thrived by not cutting back when the rest of the local television world did so during the recession. “We have the same number of people in news, if not more, as when I got here,” Smith says. “We just have more feet on the street—we’re everywhere. People see us everywhere and know we’re out serving the community.”

KETV will air a primetime special on teen pregnancy under Hearst Television’s “Chronicle” brand. Smith says it’s classic KETV—a prickly societal issue that the station is addressing head-on for the good of the community. The program will air Sept. 14 from 7 to 8 p.m.

KETV succeeds despite not airing local hi-def (WOWT, for its part, is fully HD). The station connects with well-entrenched, relatable talent, believes Smith. “People here take great pride in seeing our on-air people succeed,” she says. “They’re people you live next to and went to school with—people know they are from here.”

KMTV has Dr. Phil in for the departed Oprah Winfrey, and Anderson Cooper’s rookie show as a lead-in at 3 p.m.

KPTM shut down its news operation last year, outsourcing its 9 p.m. newscast to Independent News Network in Davenport, Iowa. “It’s been a blessing—it’s allowed us to stay in the news game,” says Miller.

KXVO kicked off live weekly high school football game telecasts Aug. 25. “Not only has that been hugely accepted by the community,” says Miller, “but it’s been very cool to put together.”

WOWT shook up its main anchor team, with Malorie Maddox promoted from mornings to evenings, where she is paired with veteran John Knicely. “We look forward to getting traction with the new team,” says Peterson. “We feel they bring a lot to the desk.”

The Gray station is also shaking up its digital strategy with the Sept. 15 launch of a Weather Authority multicast channel in place of NBC’s Universal Sports on its digital tier. A digital device equipped to air WOWT’s signal in mobile DTV form will be in stores on that date.

KETV and WOWT are the live news players at 4:30 a.m., and both are intent on separating themselves from the pack—and from each other—up and down the TV schedule. “Hearst and Gray are good, established news operations,” says KMTV’s Sehring. “They do a very good job.”

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