Market Eye: Next Stop, Omaha

KETV has always stood out in Omaha, Neb., and the Hearst TV station will stand out further when it moves into what just might be the most extraordinarily original station building in the nation next year. After scoping out more than 30 properties, KETV settled on an old train station—the 115-year-old, 40,000-square-foot Burlington Station, where trains last rolled through in 1974. Ariel Roblin, president and general manager of KETV, said the energy of a TV operation will fit right in at Burlington Station. “The hustle and bustle of a newscast is very similar to the hustle and bustle when a train pulls in,” she says. “We thought, ‘This place is made for news.’”

KETV does a masterful job of producing news, but the competition is upping its game. WOWT has a new general manager in station veteran Vic Richards following Charlie Effinger’s promotion to a VP role at parent Gray Television, and Richards is working hard to create unique local programming. With Joe Spadea running the newsroom, KMTV has launched a pair of new newscasts since September, at 4:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. “We’re doing what we can to give our friends across the street a little run,” says Chris Sehring, KMTV VP and market manager.

The economy in DMA No. 74 is absolutely rocking, as Omaha moved up one place in the most recent Nielsen rankings. Famed financier Warren Buffet makes his home there, as do a number of Fortune 500 companies including Union Pacific and ConAgra Foods. The market is a whopping No. 60 in revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, an extraordinary outperformance of its DMA rank. There’s an Air Force base, a robust Chamber of Commerce and a game workforce.

“Huge companies decide to be here,” says Roblin. “I think it has to do with the good people of Omaha— they’re trustworthy, honest and hard-working.”

Local businesses donate every time Super Bowlbound Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning yells “Omaha!”, one of his preferred play-calling options at the line of scrimmage. They gave nearly $25,000 to Manning’s foundation following the Jan. 19 AFC championship game.

Residents’ goodwill was tested by temperatures well below zero during January’s cold snap, which gave the local meteorological crews plenty to work with. “So cold it hurt to breathe,” relates Roblin.

The stations also had their hands full with the tragic story in mid-January of a 5-year-old girl who was killed by a stray bullet while eating breakfast at home.

KETV airs ABC programming and WOWT is aligned with NBC. CBS affiliate KMTV is owned by Journal Broadcasting; station GM Sehring also oversees five radio stations in the market. Sinclair owns Fox affiliate KPTM, which used to be part of Titan, while Mitts Telecasting holds the CW affiliate KXVO. Cox is the market’s primary subscription TV operator.

With a savvy veteran staff, KETV swept the ratings races in the November sweeps. So dominant is the station that it won primetime, which is unusual for a non-CBS affiliate. WOWT was runner-up in the news battles; its 9.8 household rating/22 share in the lucrative 10 p.m. race trailed KETV’s 12/27.

Roblin cites the word “connection” as the key to KETV’s success. “We try to foster and encourage and support the market, and that reflects on the air,” she says. “We understand what matters to people.”

The leader’s rivals are not sitting back. WOWT will launch a pair of unique local shows March 1—the live kids’ program Aunt Molly & Friends and the local music show Omaha Live, the latter following Saturday Night Live. “I’m a big believer in local programming,” Richards says. “Any opportunity we get to produce some of it, I’m all about that.”

KPTM has a 9 p.m. news and is eyeing an expansion, perhaps to mornings. It’s also looking to add more high school sports. “We’ve got quite a bit of things on the horizon,” says GM Jeff Miller.

KMTV, which flipped the switch on local HD last October, hired weather veteran Jim Flowers from WOWT and is promoting its four-person Weather Alert Team. “We’re trying to build a brand and tell people we’re here to serve them,” says Sehring. The station also signed on for Rentrak ratings in the diary market.

Sehring calls KMTV “a major work in progress.” It will be some time before it, or another Omaha competitor, unseats KETV. Roblin says the Burlington overhaul is, in train parlance, on time. “The building stands strong and beautiful,” she says. “It really is an incredible place.”


Veteran WOWT anchor John Knicely was the face of the Gray TV station’s “John at Work” segments, which saw him tackle odd jobs such as joining TV tower repairmen up in the skies and riding an Olympic bobsled. Those ran their course years ago, but Knicely is back in the field with a new franchise called “Knicely Done,” which highlights the good going on around Omaha.

“It allows John to spotlight those in our community who are helping others,” says WOWT news director Amy Adams. “Many times they are organizations or individuals who are ‘under the radar’ with their charitable giving and efforts. Rather than just report the stories, John rolls up his sleeves and jumps in to help.”

The segments launched in December. Just before Christmas, Knicely spotlighted a group of students who collected food for the needy to enjoy over the holidays, and he pitched in with delivery. “Operation Others, Knicely done!” the anchor said at the end of the segment.

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.