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Market Eye: New Owners Pepper Salt Lake TV

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There has been extraordinary activity among the TV stations in Salt Lake City, particularly with the ownership groups. A year ago, Sinclair Broadcast Group acquired the Four Points Media stations, the crown jewel being CBS affiliate KUTV Salt Lake City. Nexstar had provided services to the Four Points stations; that arrangement ended following the Sinclair acquisition. But Nexstar is getting back into Salt Lake City following its deal to acquire a dozen Newport Television stations—including KTVX-KUCW.

While the Nexstar deal awaits regulatory approval, KUTV is moving ahead as a star of the vast Sinclair portfolio. “We’re very pleased with the opportunity to be part of Sinclair Broadcast Group,” said Kent Crawford, KUTV general manager. “We want to be backed by a group that really understands the broadcasting business.”

Crawford, formerly KUTV director of sales, took over as GM last October, following Steve Carlston’s move to KNBC Los Angeles.

Salt Lake City TV made news recently when KSL, owned by the Latter-Day Saints’ Bonneville International, announced it would not air NBC debutant comedy The New Normal, about a gay couple adopting a baby. Jeff Simpson, Bonneville CEO, suggested in a statement that The New Normal went too far for the conservative broadcaster. “From time to time we may struggle with content that crosses the line in one area or another,” Simpson said. “The dialogue might be excessively rude and crude. The scenes may be too explicit or the characterizations might seem offensive.”

Simpson did not return calls for information on the NBC affiliate.

CW affiliate KUCW is airing The New Normal. The station already airs Saturday Night Live, which KSL refused to run years ago. KSL’s NBC cast-offs run in a Saturday-night block on KUCW.

The ratings competition has also undergone a shakeup in DMA No. 33. As of June 30, KUTV-KMYU dropped Nielsen for Rentrak. With Nexstar taking over KTVXKUCW, those stations will likely split with Nielsen too, as Nexstar does not subscribe. “I like the sample size—50,000 versus Nielsen’s 400,” said Crawford. “We anticipate more Rentrak activity in the market.”

Amidst all the changes, things are staying pretty consistent over at KSTU. While KSL and KTVX have undergone numerous news anchor switches, Tim Ermish, KSTU president and GM, says Local TV’s on-air gang has stayed steady. The Fox affiliate also flipped the switch on HD—the last major station in Salt Lake City to do so—for the May sweeps. That wrapped up an 18 month-long building overhaul. “We were the last to the HD party,” said Ermish, “but it looks fantastic.”

KSTU thrives on lots of local news—adding a 4:30 a.m. newscast in May brought the total to eight hours a day— and a strategy to be first on the air in a given daypart, as evidenced by its 11:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. newscasts. “We’re more local, we’re on first, we have continuity with our anchors,” Ermish said. “That kind of stuff resonates.”

Other players in the market include the independent KJZZ, which is owned by Larry H. Miller and features a high school football game of the week, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and a double-run of The Office at 10 p.m.

Just over 13% of the market is of Hispanic origin, according to BIA/Kelsey. Spanish-language offerings include Univision-owned KUTH, which airs a Saturday 10 a.m. news, and Liberman’s Estrella TV station, KPNZ.

Comcast is the main pay TV operator, but Salt Lake City’s satellite TV contingent is as large as its cable one.

A cadre of veteran Salt Lake City anchors made a splash when, a website featuring a who’s who of past TV news talent, officially launched at the start of 2011 (B&C, 11/15/10). Efforts to reach management through the site were unsuccessful. SLC news vets say the site’s profile has diminished considerably following its noisy debut. “There was buzz at the very beginning,” said Ermish, “but you never see it [mentioned] anymore.”

The Salt Lake City economy is healthy. The market’s naturally conservative bent helped prevent the home foreclosures that have dragged other parts of the country down. Salt Lake City won’t see presidential money—Mitt Romney (an adopted “favorite son,” said Crawford) has the state sewn up—but it will see a little spending from other races.

“We’re doing better than most states,” said Crawford. “We feel we’re moving in the right direction.”

KUTV is moving in the right direction too. According to Rentrak, the station won the major news races in the May sweeps, along with total day and primetime ratings, with KSL typically No. 2. KUTV’s 10 p.m. news rated 9.3% in Rentrak, ahead of KSL’s 8.8%, though KSL edged out KUTV in adults 25-54.

KUTV kicked off 4:30 a.m. news Sept. 10, brought back 7-8 a.m. news on weekends Sept. 15 and marked the one-year anniversary of its 7 p.m. news on sister KMYU. Crawford says KUTV has emerged as something of a template within Sinclair. “They saw us doing seven hours of news a day and they quite like the model,” he said. “Having a strong broadcaster behind us has been refreshing.”

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