Market Eye: Extending the City Limits | @BCMikeMalone

Moving up a spot in the annual Nielsen TV market rankings is a cause for celebration, while moving up two notches is a reason to pop a champagne cork or two. What happened in Austin, Texas, over the past year is a different matter; the Texas capital leapfrogged from No. 45 to 40—a function of the market’s undeniable growth and its current more accurate measurement. “Nielsen finally accepted what has been the reality for a while,” says Patti C. Smith, KVUE president/general manager. “This market is growing like wildfire.”

Austin was No. 66 when Smith arrived in 1999. Gaining five spots in one year—one other market in the top 100 (Charleston, S.C.) picked up as many as three—shocked even the local station chiefs. “It wasn’t surprising that the market is growing—we see that in front of our faces,” says Luis Patino, Univision senior VP/GM at KAKW. “But five spots is a pretty big jump.”

Austin is the perfect storm of favorable market qualities—a state capital, a massive university town, a rocking tech sector that includes outposts of Facebook, Apple and Dell. To that you can add Google—Austin is set to debut the Google Fiber TV service next year.

That will heat up an already torrid subscription TV derby that involves Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s U-verse. TWC offers a YNN-branded batch of local channels. “The news channel is the exclusive property of Time Warner Cable,” says Steve Paulus, TWC senior VP of news and local programming. “It grows in value whenever the competition [increases].”

KVUE is a ratings and revenue monster. Belo’s ABC affiliate won the total-day household ratings race in the May sweeps, along with morning and late news—the latter with a 4.9 household rating/10 share at 10 p.m., ahead of KXAN’s 4.2/8. KXAN, a LIN-owned NBC affiliate, won the early-evening battle, though KVUE took a tight adults 25-54 race. Primetime went to Sinclair-owned KEYE, a CBS affiliate, though KVUE again won the demo race.

Fox owns KTBC and Univision has the O&O KAKW and UniMás station KTFO.

KVUE booked $26.5 million in revenue last year, estimates BIA/Kelsey, ahead of KXAN’s $24.3 million. The leader thrives on stability in its talent ranks and a culture where everyone at the station is encouraged to bring ideas to the table. “If someone says, ‘Can we try this?’ we try it,” says Smith.

LIN also owns MyNetworkTV-affiliated KBVO and operates Vaughan Media’s CW station, KNVA. LIN recently opened a 24,000-square-foot corporate headquarters about a mile and a half from the KXAN digs.

More News Is Good News

Austin stations are growing their news commensurate to the population explosion. KNVA added a 7-9 a.m. newscast in September; Eric Lassberg, president and general manager, calls it an “absolute continuation” of the morning product on the big station. “Same brand, same anchors, same everything,” he says.

KTBC kicked off 6-8 a.m. weekend news, with Scarlet Greyson anchoring. The station revamped its a.m. team while slotting Christina Haas at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Haas, formerly of KVUE, was most recently at KNSD San Diego. “She wanted to come back, and we were able to make it happen for her,” says Michael Lewis, KTBC VP and general manager. Lewis encourages a bit of POV in the station’s news. “We try to make analysis and debate part of what we do.,” he says.

KVUE expanded its Sunday-night news to an hour. Besides 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. Spanish-language news, KAKW does hourly four-minute inserts in the network’s Despierta America show. KAKW delivers on Univision’s “inform and empower” mandate to viewers, with town hall meetings dedicated to Affordable Care Act nuances and walks in city parks designed to encourage health and fitness. The station’s Premios Texas awards show turns 10 this year. Patino calls it “the Latin Grammys, Texas-style.”

“It’s a really cool event with national recognition,” he adds.

Cracking Nielsen’s top 40 means being included in more national ad campaigns. Yet there’s no reason to think the growth—fueled by a mix of entrepreneurial spirit and Austin’s famously freewheeling ways—will cease. “We’d like to see Austin jump one more spot to get to No. 39,” says Lewis. “If we see the same growth in the next year, we should get to it.”

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.