In Alaska's largest city, stations were curious what effect a powerful local cable giant taking over a competitor would have, but any fears thus far about lost ratings points and revenue have not materialized. Denali Media Holdings, a subsidiary of General Communications Inc. (GCI), completed its acquisition of Anchorage’s KTVA in 2013, and invested mightily, including a $22 million upgrade of the CBS affiliate’s facility. GCI’s deep pockets and vast reach will improve KTVA…eventually.
“We’ve got to be very, very realistic,” says Gary Donovan, Denali Media chief operating officer. “The NBC property has been so dominant for so long. It’s the equivalent of turning a battleship around.”
That property is KTUU, owned by Schurz Communications. The station also has invested around $22 million in a new 40,000 square foot, fully HD facility. It features an open floor plan. “It’s designed to be the media facility of the future,” says Andy MacLeod, president and general manager.
KTUU thrives by covering the whole of Alaska with a 24/7, multiplatform approach, MacLeod says. And the station simply cleans up in the ratings, running the table during the February sweeps. Perhaps the best measure of KTUU’s dominance is that it won the primetime households race—rare for a non-CBS affiliate. It was also locked in a virtual tie with KTVA in primetime adults 25-54.
The other major player is KYUR, which is owned by Vision Alaska and airs ABC programming, with The CW on its dot-two. KYUR has an operating agreement with Coastal TV, which owns Fox affiliate KTBY; Scott Centers, chief operating officer of Coastal Television, heads up the operation. MyNetworkTV affiliate KYES is owned by Fireweed Communications. GCI is the primary subscription TV operator.
In February, KTUU’s performance included a 55 household share at 6 a.m., a 43 share at 5 p.m., and an 11.2 rating/38.2 share at 10 p.m., ahead of KTVA’s 2.9/9.7. The 25-54 race at 10 had KTUU with a 4.8/30.8 and KTVA at 1.4/8.9.
Major investments are the norm in DMA No. 147, with KYUR-KTBY going HD. The headcount was 24 when Centers came on board in 2010, he says, and stands at 60-plus now. News crews travel statewide and beyond, including to Seattle for the NFC championship game. “It’s been a total overhaul from where we were when I walked in,” says Centers. “We’re definitely not the large fish in the small pond, but we hold our own.”
The media landscape has gotten more interesting. Alice Rogoff, owner of the Alaska Dispatch, acquired the Anchorage Daily News last year and has been investing in the papers. Late in 2013, Denali Media Holdings acquired not only KTVA but also NBC affiliates KATH Juneau and KSCT Sitka. KTVA has expanded its weekly news output from seven hours a week to 17, says Donovan, with a morning newscast, an expanded 6 p.m. show and weekend news. No more additions are planned, but Donovan says, “We’re always looking, we’re always talking.”
Anchorage TV vets privately say KTVA has not moved the needle due to a lack of broadcast experience and the challenge of having started from a lowly position. Donovan says the race is closer than Nielsen indicates; one perk of being owned by a cable monolith is set-top box data. Nielsens, he says, “heavily favor the incumbent.”
Anchorage’s economy is booming; BIA/Kelsey charts the DMA’s TV revenue at an impressive No. 118. Decreasing oil barrel prices are good for the lower 49, but not as good for Alaska, whose economy is joined at the hip with oil revenue. But the state’s so called rainy day fund comes close to $100 billion, say local TV executives. And the area has seen a rise in chain stores and restaurants, clamoring to hang their shingle in the market. “We’ve even got a Hard Rock Café,” says Centers. “That’s how much growth we’ve seen.”
The 90-day state legislature session in Juneau has wrapped, and the fair weather has arrived in Anchorage. The competition will heat up too, but MacLeod likes his chances. “The new facility gives us the ability to reach beyond the technological limitations of our old facility,” he says, “and build our lead in the market.”
ANGRY ANCHORS, IRON DOGS, OPINING POLITICOS
KTVA chiefs had to be cringing in September, when then-anchor Charlo Green, after reporting a story on marijuana legislation, revealed she is the owner of a private marijuana club in Anchorage. “F--- it, I quit,” said a matter of fact Green before walking off the set. News director Bert Rudman said she was terminated. “We sincerely apologize for the inappropriate language used by a KTVA reporter during her live presentation on the air tonight,” he posted on Facebook.
Across town, KTUU produced a one-hour documentary about the 2,000 mile Iron Dog Snowmobile Race. Billed as the “world’s longest, toughest snowmobile race,” the Iron Dog doc ran on NBC Sports Network March 31. Andy MacLeod, president and general manager at KTUU, says the station’s new facility made such an undertaking possible.
And KYUR aired a daily political show at 5 p.m. during the three months of state legislature sessions, which recently wrapped. News and Views airs throughout the Coastal TV system, which also includes stations in Juneau and Fairbanks. It’s anchored by Dorene Lorenz, a fourth generation Alaskan.
“Politics is Alaska’s professional sport,” says Scott Centers, Coastal Television’s COO.
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