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Market Eye: Top-Five Overdrive

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With all of its Big Four stations in the ratings hunt, and top-flight Spanishlanguage outlets as well, stations in Dallas-Fort Worth are constantly pushed to break new ground. KXAS is taking that mandate literally, starting construction on a new facility in Fort Worth for itself and sister Telemundo station KXTX that is closer to the vast market’s heart.

“We have sales in Dallas and our studio in Fort Worth,” says Tom Ehlmann, president and general manager of KXAS. “This will allow us to have everybody consolidated in one facility.”

DMA No. 5 is home to a number of broadcast companies, including Belo, Nexstar and London Broadcasting. Market-leading ABC affiliate WFAA may not be network owned, like its rivals, but it enjoys having parent Belo in the market.

While NBC owns KXAS and KXTX, CBS has KTVT and independent KTXA and Fox holds KDFW and MyNetworkTV station KDFI. Tribune owns CW affiliate KDAF. The Spanish-language players also include Univision’s KUVN and KSTR, while Liberman has Estrella TV station KMPX.

Time Warner Cable is DFW’s top subscription TV operator. On cable, TNT’s reboot of iconic primetime soap Dallas premiered June 13 to nearly 7 million viewers.

KXAS won early-morning news household ratings in the May sweeps, while WFAA took 5 and 6 p.m. KTVT was tops in primetime, and its 5.5 household rating/10 share (live plus same day) at 10 p.m. beat WFAA’s 5.3/10. WFAA was tops in total-day household ratings in May.

The Dallas-Fort Worth economy, which features a diverse portfolio of industries ranging from energy to medical, is holding up well. That helps DFW be last into a recession and first out, station GMs say. Housing prices are creeping up, while Texas unemployment is below 7%. “Businesses continue to come in to Dallas- Fort Worth,” says Kathy Saunders, VP of KDFW-KDFI, mentioning a new Bloomingdale’s outlet.

While dead-red Texas will not see much, if any, presidential campaign spending, a race for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat will ensure stations in the market get some political cash.

With a narrow gap between the big stations, all are hustling for the upper hand. KTVT this week unveiled a new morning anchor team, with Brendan Higgins shifting from KXAS and Adrienne Bankert coming from KCRA Sacramento. “I think they complement each other well,” Gary Schneider, KTVT president/GM, says of the pairing.

KTVT sister outlet KTXA is the broadcast home of baseball’s Texas Rangers; the station airs a popular Fridaynight game featuring the first-place club.

KDFW airs 40 hours of local news Monday through Friday, which Saunders says is easily the most in the market. Robin Whitmeyer took over as news director in January. “What’s very important to me is telling the best story,” Saunders says. “There’s been a lot of concentration on that.”

Speaking of new news directors, Carolyn Mungo, formerly of KRIV Houston, was named executive news director at WFAA in February. She succeeded Michael Valentine, who was promoted to Belo corporate. Mike Devlin, WFAA president and general manager, described his new hire as “experienced, resilient, thoughtful and a good communicator.”

KUVN recently popped the champagne on the first anniversary of its morning newscast, which runs for two hours, with a third hour on KSTR. The Univision station also has 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. “Our strength is that we are culturally relevant to the people of Dallas,” says Kevin Cuddihy, president of the Univision station group, “or we wouldn’t be No. 1 in early evening and late news [among viewers 18-49].”

KDAF has an expanded role in the Tribune group, producing the Eye Opener morning show for sister stations in Houston, Philadelphia, Miami and Portland (Ore.). Each outlet can localize the young-skewing program with their own content inserts. Eye Opener runs 5-8 a.m. in Dallas. “It gives each station the opportunity to have a local identity and the opportunity to be in the news business,” says Joe Young, KDAF VP/GM. “If it keeps working, we’ll take it to more markets.”

KDAF this fall will have the syndicated Ricki Lake leading into 5 p.m. news, and Young is big-time bullish on the new CW schedule. “I feel like the network has come to market with its strongest lineup yet,” he says.

KXAS, meanwhile, has a new investigative unit, while adding syndicated shows from Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst for fall. “We’re trying to rebuild daytime,” says Ehlmann.

While a typical market might feature two superior stations duking it out, such robust competition across the dial, and in two languages, brings out the best in the DFW news teams. “It’s a very competitive market,” says Schneider, “and it makes us all stronger.”

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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.