Market Eye: Positively Sixth Street

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There’s always something creative, innovative and kind of funky going on in Austin, Texas. South by Southwest wrapped a few months ago. Austin City Limits recently announced the lineup for its September festival. Keep Austin Weird, featuring the market’s local music (Sixth Street is Austin’s live music mecca) and a 5K race, is slated for June 25.

South by Southwest (SXSW) has grown from a music industry trade show to a giant gathering of cultural tastemakers and digital pioneers, and the Austin TV stations connected with conventioneers at this year’s event in March. LIN’s KBVO had a nightly program called Access South By Southwest. Fox-owned KTBC staged My Band Rocks Fox, a partnership with licensing giant BMI that saw bands perform on the morning show and viewers deciding who would win a prime gig during the festival.

KVUE offered mobile apps telling attendees where the hot acts were and what the weather might be like. “We tried to make it easy for people to survive and thrive in that environment,” says Patti C. Smith, KVUE president and general manager.

Belo’s KVUE had a giant February sweeps. The ABC affiliate won total day household ratings, along with morning, early evening and late news. KVUE put up a 5.96 household rating and 10.54 share at 10 p.m., a little better than NBC affiliate KXAN’s 5.47/9.67.

Fox station KTBC had the top primetime in Austin. Mark Rodman, VP and general manager, says Fox’s quirky programming is a match for Austin. “The Fox brand is a good fit for what Austin is—young and edgy,” he says.

There are some unique management arrangements in DMA No. 44. Nexstar manages Four Points Media’s KEYE, a CBS affiliate. Vaughan Media’s CW affiliate KNVA is managed by LIN’s KXAN, and LIN airs MyNetworkTV and a ton of local sports on digital channel KBVO.

Spanish-language fare comes from Univision O&O KAKW and its TeleFutura sister KTFO, while KEYE inked a deal to air Telemundo on its digital channel late in 2009. KAKW has popular 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, and Univision has robust local radio properties as well.

Austin’s main subscription-TV operator is Time Warner Cable, which runs local news channel YNN.

As the state capital and home of the University of Texas, Austin weathered the recession fairly well. Technology—Dell and Samsung are huge local employers—comprises the third leg of Austin’s economic tripod. “I absolutely believe Austin will get back to where it was prior to the recession,” says Smith. “I don’t believe that about every market.”

The local broadcasters are trying everything to own the airwaves. KVUE and KTBC introduced 4:30 a.m. newscasts last September. Last year, KTBC went local at 9-10 a.m. to make for a massive morning block. KNVA will welcome Anderson Cooper in September and recently marked a year anniversary for its 9 p.m. news. KXAN, which will grab Dr. Phil from KEYE in September, has the politics roundtable Session ‘11 running Sunday mornings while the state legislature is in session January to June. “It’s like Meet the Press at a local level,” says Eric Lassberg, KXAN president and GM. “Expert analysis, people in the field, a roundtable discussion, all related to politics.”

KVUE, which launched a simulcast of its weather and news channel for mobile DTV in March, is looking to extend its lead with a savvy social media strategy. “We use every one of our tools every day,” Smith says, “to literally earn the trust of users, viewers and fans.”

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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.