Market Eye: Frozen Assets

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The mercury may be fighting to climb above zero, but things are heating up in the Anchorage, Alaska, television world. The CBS affiliate is being acquired. The ABC affiliate has a new news strategy and call letters. And the annual state legislature session is poised to begin in capital Juneau, about 850 miles away, giving the TV newsrooms plenty to cover.

Through it all, KTUU thrives. Andy MacLeod, president and general manager, is taking the shakeups at the competition in stride. “Any time there’s change in the marketplace, there’s some concern,” he said. “But more competition makes things better, and we see a rising tide lifting all boats.”

MacLeod was named GM last year after joining the station in 1983. “We’ve seen it before,” he said of the shifting dynamics. “We’ll see it again.”

In mid-November, Denali Media Holdings, a subsidiary of Alaska telecommunications giant General Communication Inc. (GCI), agreed to acquire KTVA Anchorage, along with NBC affiliates KATH Juneau and KSCT Sitka, from Alaska Broadcasting Company/Media News Group. Ron Duncan, GCI president, spoke at the time of transforming the stations into “an entertainment leader unparalleled” across the state. “We look at these purchases as the first step toward providing a new statewide platform for news and information,” he added, “as well as providing unique content and value for GCI’s video subscribers.”

The deal awaits regulatory approval, which is expected to come in the first quarter.

CBS affiliate KTVA looks to grab some of longtime leader KTUU’s special sauce; John Tracy, former 20-year news director at KTUU, was named a consultant in the rebuilding of the acquired stations’ news departments. GCI spokesperson David Morris referred to Tracy as “the Walter Cronkite of Alaska news,” and said priorities at KTVA include local HD, a new studio and potential programming synergies with the new parent, such as newscasts on-demand. The acquisition will also increase KTVA’s advertising clout. “There are a number of synergies regarding ad opportunities and ad revenue,” Morris said. “It will offer greater reach to our advertising base.”

It will take a major push to unseat KTUU. Schurz bought the NBC affiliate for $26 million in 2008, adding its rich journalism heritage to KTUU’s own. In August, the station expanded the daily Channel 2 Morning Edition from 90 minutes to two hours. The station also showcases major-market news chops in its quarterly series The 49th Report. Part documentary and part investigative journalism, 49th Report goes deep on social issues facing Alaskans, such as the state’s alarming suicide rate. “It’s the premiere platform for in-depth journalism that can’t fit into a traditional newscast,” said Tracy Sabo, news director.

KTUU’s ratings advantage is glaring. The station posted a 14.5 household rating/41.2 share at 10 p.m. in May, ahead of KTVA’s 2.7/7.6. Early evenings were a similar story: KTUU at 11.9/39.5 at 5 p.m., and KTVA at 1.4/4.7. KTUU also won mornings and total-day ratings, while KTVA was best in prime.

Other players in the market include Vision Alaska’s ABC affiliate KYUR, operated by Coastal Television Broadcasting, and Coastal’s Fox affiliate KTBY. KYUR was formerly known as KIMO, a reference to “Eskimo” that had become dated. Scott Centers, COO of Coastal Television, said the new call letters spell a “fresh approach” for KYUR. “We’ve improved ratings, though we’re not where we want to be yet,” he said.

KYUR has The CW on its dot-two. Fireweed Communications owns MyNetworkTV affiliate KYES. GCI is the main cable operator in Anchorage.

KTUU almost doubled its biggest challenger’s revenue in 2011, according to BIA/Kelsey, with an estimated $11.5 million, ahead of KTVA’s $6.5 million. BIA ranks Anchorage at an impressive No. 119 in terms of revenue.

Rich in natural resources, the market is growing at a Vegas-like pace, rising from No. 150 two years ago to No. 145 this year, and more people means more business. The opening of Alaska’s first Olive Garden restaurant earlier this year in Anchorage was seen as a symbol that the market had arrived. “For the past three to five years, our economy has looked very solid,” MacLeod said, “better than most of the rest of the U.S.”

Winter is well under way in Anchorage—snowfall through November was light, but residents woke up to temperatures at or below zero some mornings.

The stations will have to work hard to pull the new arrivals away from KTUU. KTBY debuts a Sunday-night political show in January. But KTUU is a mighty force in Anchorage, and cements that bond with viewers with a quarterly community forum program called OneAlaska.

“We truly believe we are Alaska’s news source,” Sabo said. “We are the place people turn to for their daily information, and their vital information. Our news department lives to serve viewers every day.”

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Michael Malone

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.