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Market Eye: Bliss on the Border

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There is growth, and then there is growth, El Paso style. El Paso, situated in west Texas, along with tiny Jackson, Tenn., enjoyed the largest increase in market rank in the most recent Nielsen lineup, leapfrogging a half-dozen TV markets in going from No. 97 to No. 91. The El Paso DMA, which includes Las Cruces, N.M., went from 315,000 television homes in 2011 to 336,600 this year, thanks to both a major expansion of a local military base and people fleeing drug-ravaged Juarez, south of the border.

Local TV execs say El Paso has always punched above its weight, thanks in part to the fact that it also broadcasts to Juarez, but does not receive Nielsen credit for it. “I think we always played bigger than No. 97,” Gary Sotir, general manager at ComCorp of El Paso, owner of NBC affiliate KTSM, says of the local area. “It’s a big news market, with international, national and local stories. We attract a pretty good level of reporter and anchor candidates.”

Perhaps an even more significant number for El Paso is its revenue rank, as calculated by BIA/Kelsey. While it is DMA No. 91, El Paso is No. 74 in revenue. Numerous Juarez residents cross the border to shop in safe and prosperous El Paso, say local TV executives, keeping the local economy thriving.

Also thriving is KVIA. News-Press & Gazette owns the ABC affiliate, which won all the major ratings races in the November sweeps, including the late news contest with an 8.6 household rating/18.6 share. Runnerup at 10 p.m. was Entravision’s KINT, a powerful Univision affiliate, which tallied a 7.9/17.1. El Paso is a Nielsen diary market.

KVIA is rich in news offerings, including noon and 4 p.m. programs, and weekend morning newscasts as well. Kevin Lovell, general manager at KVIA, credits the backing of ownership for its eminence. “News-Press & Gazette really believes in strong content,” Lovell says. “They have always supplied us with the news resources we need to be competitive.”

The parent company also gets some credit for what Lovell describes as “next to no” turnover at the station. “I haven’t hired a manager, or even a mid-level manager, in years,” he says.

El Paso is a booming news market, with not only the traditional Big Four offering newscasts, but the lively Spanish-language KINT operation and an emerging Telemundo outlet, KTDO, airing news too. (A whopping 79% of the market claims Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey.) “There’s quite a bit of news for a market this size,” says Lovell.

The number of newsrooms, however, decreased when ComCorp owner KTSM agreed to manage Titan Broadcast Group’s CBS outlet KDBC two years ago. The stations are both housed at KTSM’s digs, sharing a newsroom but keeping their news brands separate. KDBC goes with “Local 4” and a hyperlocal focus. KTSM’s “NewsChannel 9” is broader and makes consumer advocacy a priority.

Cox Media Group owns Fox affiliate KFOX and ZGS Communications owns the Telemundo outlet. Entravision has a duopoly in KINT and TeleFutura station KTFN, along with five radio stations in the market. (Among other newscasts, KINT has a 5-6 a.m. morning show that continues for another hour on KTFN.) KVIA offers Azteca America and The CW on its digital tier, while KTSM has Estrella TV on channel 9.2.

Time Warner Cable is the dominant subscription television operator in El Paso, while Comcast is the big pay-TV player in Las Cruces.

Locals say the economy has been buffered by a stable housing market and the expansion of military base Fort Bliss, which has doubled its population in recent years. “We get the benefit of people moving in all the time,” says Sotir.

The well-documented drug violence south of the border has been a factor in El Paso’s growth, too. Besides new residents, scores of Juarez business owners have relocated north to escape extortion, violence and other nefarious drug gang activity. “It’s like a ghost town,” says David Candelaria, VP/general manager of KINT-KTFN.

El Paso has also benefited from what’s known as maquiladora, which sees major U.S. corporations establishing manufacturing facilities, be it automotive, electronics, etc., just below the border. The managers reside on the U.S. side and contribute mightily to the local economy. The concept has also established El Paso as a distribution hub.

Stations are expanding their offerings. KINT is eyeing weekend daytime news and a bigger presence in Las Cruces. Last April, KTSM expanded its 6 p.m. news to an hour. KVIA may try a similar tack with its 4 p.m. news. “We always look at how to potentially expand news for every window that makes sense,” says Lovell.

Lovell’s station is expected to wear the El Paso TV ratings and revenue crowns for some time, but the competition is robust. “All the companies in town play hard and take the competition seriously,” says Sotir. “We all push each other.”

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