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Market Eye: Where Local Is Focal

The Fort Smith-Fayetteville, Ark., market will get some star power when A-list talent pops in for a shareholders’ meeting June 6; Justin Timberlake and Beyonce have turned up to perform in recent years. It’s not just any shareholders’ meeting—it’s Walmart’s. Bentonville-based Walmart has an enormous presence in the market. If your next-door neighbor doesn’t work there, he or she may well work for any of the many companies that supply Walmart, earning the region the nickname “Vendorville.”

“Our market has special flavor due to Walmart,” says Van Comer, president and general manager of KFSM.

KFSM has some special flavor, too— local flavor, that is. The CBS affiliate makes a point of hiring, and retaining, local talent. “I hear from viewers, it’s sincere, ‘I believe the anchors care,’” says Comer. “A lot of that is because they are local.”

New owner Tribune gave KFSM the green light for news expansions. Rival KHBSKHOG, Hearst TV’s ABC affiliate, is keen on expanding news too. The station, which goes by “40/29,” reflecting the twin channels on both sides of the DMA, slotted a 9 p.m. news on Arkansas’ The CW, which airs on a dot-two channel. “Our growth plans includes news expansion on both ABC and The CW,” says Shawn Oswald, president/GM.

Nexstar owns NBC affiliate KNWA and Fox affiliate KFTA. Since moving into a new facility in October 2012, KFTA has added 7-8 a.m. news, a 5:30 p.m. program and weekend primetime news. “There’s so much local [advertising] business, and the clients want to be in news,” says Lisa Kelsey, VP and general manager.

Tribune also holds the local MyNetworkTV station, KXNW, which airs a 9 p.m. news. Cox is the main subscription service. Ft. Smith-Fayetteville- Springdale-Rogers, market No. 101, was 108 just a dozen years ago. The growth has come not only from Walmart and its vendors, but the poultry giant Tyson and trucking outfit J.B. Hunt as well. Fort Smith sits along the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, while the other cities are in the northwest corner of Arkansas.

After adding weekend morning news in April, KFSM airs 32 hours of local news weekly. The station has four full-time meteorologists, and chief Garrett Lewis is a 13-year veteran of the market. Comer says local expertise is a must in a region with tricky terrain and tornado threats. “It takes a lot of experience and understanding of the science to cover weather in this area,” he says.

KFSM won all the key races in the February sweeps, nearly doubling KHBS in late news with a 9.4 household rating/24.7 share, compared to KHBS’ 4.8/12.6. Morning and early evening numbers are stunning: KFSM had a 34.4 share in the 6-7 a.m. hour, a 41.3 share at 5 p.m. and a 33.1 share at 6 p.m.

In last November’s sweeps, KFSM put up an 11.7 rating/28.4 share in late news, while KHBS had a 5.2/12.5. KFSM’s slogan says “Keep It Local.” “We don’t just say what—we say, so what?” says Comer, explaining the station’s mission to provide context. “It’s what really matters and why it matters to you.”

KHBS has news operations in Ft. Smith and Fayetteville and the tagline “Live, Local, Late Breaking.” The station is focusing on its digital platforms, which include a popular tornadoes app. “We make sure we are delivering content any way viewers want to see it,” says Oswald.

Oswald is stunned by how much growth has gone down since he last lived in the market. Yet some things don’t change. “It has Southern culture, but what I call a Midwestern work ethic,” he says. “It’s got some of the nicest people I’ve come in contact with.”



KNWA debuted Cooking Today at 12:30 p.m. in January. A key sponsor is Tyson, based in Springdale. Others are locally based Sam’s Club and seasonings outfit Tone’s; “experts” representing the sponsors at times cook alongside chef Steven Brooks.

Nexstar stations don’t subscribe to Nielsen, but Lisa Kelsey, VP/GM, says Cooking Today has launched “extremely well.” With Tyson as a sponsor, chicken pops up in Brooks’ recipes; other installments have walked viewers through lemon pepper mahimahi, beef stroganoff and pineapple upside-down cake.

Cooking Today enables KNWA to be local when KHBS is offering syndicated fare and KFSM airs a soap. “People like it,” says Kelsey. “And being in the vendor community definitely opens up opportunities for sponsorships.”