Market Eye: Summer in the City

Salt Lake City’s population growth is nothing short of Olympian. Host of the 2002 Winter Games, Salt Lake has gained almost a half-million residents since 2004, according to BIA/Kelsey, with another half-million expected to move in by 2014. Residents are drawn to the area’s natural beauty, and a richer quality of life than many Las Vegas, Phoenix and California expats were enjoying before.

“We’ve gone from Market No. 36 to No. 31 inside of five years—not a lot of markets see that kind of growth,” says KSTU President/General Manager Tim Ermish. “We expect to be a top 30 market in the next couple of years.”

Hispanics represent more than 12% of the population. While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still has a huge presence, residents say the array of arrivals is changing Salt Lake to a city that looks a little more like the rest of the U.S.

The newbies make for lots of people who’ve not yet settled on a go-to TV channel, so the stations are on their best behavior each day to attract them. High Plains Broadcasting’s ABC affiliate KTVX, for one, flipped on the local hidef at the end of April, joining most of the SLC stations in offering HD local news. VP/General Manager Matt Jaquint, who also manages CW outlet KUCW, welcomes samplers with a new HD-friendly set and graphics. “We’ve got better product out there than we’ve had in the past,” he says. “We’re ready to make a move.”

The Mormon church owns longtime market leader KSL. Broadcast Group CEO Bob Johnson left May 1 to head up the church’s benefits department. Now running the NBC affiliate’s day-to-day affairs is Jeff Simpson, who was the executive VP at corporate sibling Deseret Book Co.

Simpson said at the time of his hiring that he’s proud to “learn from such a talented group” at KSL. The competition privately wonders if the management change—and apparent lack of deep local broadcast experience atop KSL—might open the door for a new king of the hill.

KUTV is making major inroads. Four Points Media owns the CBS outlet, which is managed by Nexstar. KUTV won total day and primetime household ratings in May, along with morning news and the 5 p.m. race. KSL won the 6 p.m. title but gets little help in prime, finishing fourth. It nonetheless took the 10 p.m. news derby with a 10.2 household rating/19 share, better than KUTV’s 9.2 rating/ 17 share.

KSL was the easy winner in 2009 revenue, according to BIA/Kelsey, its $33.3 million tally besting KUTV’s $24.4 million.

The 9 p.m. news race is no longer a race. Local TV’s Fox affiliate KSTU stands alone after independent KJZZ scrapped a 9 p.m. news on May 31. Owned by Larry H. Miller Communications, KJZZ also eliminated a 9 a.m. newscast; both were produced by KUTV. (Neither KJZZ nor KUTV returned calls for comment.)

Spanish-language options include Univision’s KUTH and Liberman Broadcasting’s KPNZ, which airs Estrella TV.

KSTU is making its mark with lots of local reporting. The station added weekend morning news in January, extending the Good Day Utah brand to seven days a week. “KUTV canceled theirs, and we went in and filled the void,” Ermish says. “It was a logical choice for us.”

Salt Lake City, whose main employers are high-tech firms, health care and the Mormons, hasn’t felt the major economic rebound other markets are enjoying—yet. “We typically enter a downturn a little later,” Ermish says. “Therefore, we come out a little later, too.”

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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.