There are a number of fresh faces in the general manager offices around Omaha. Charlie Peterson took over for retiring WOWT boss Frank Jonas in mid-October, Rob Burton grabbed the reigns at KMTV in August, and KETV president/G.M. Sarah Smith has been on the job for all of seven months. “I’m the second most senior G.M. in the market,” she says with a nod to the local graybeard, KPTM/KXVO VP/G.M. Randy Oswald.
Gray’s WOWT and Hearst-Argyle’s KETV are jockeying for the news lead. KETV scored a convincing primetime win in the May book, thanks to ABC studs like Grey’s Anatomy, and grabbed total day and evening news, too. WOWT took late news in a Central Time Zone market that tunes in en masse at 10: Its 15.5 household rating/30 share bested KETV’s 13.8/27.
WOWT credits a tireless devotion to breaking news. “We continually freshen things up and hit the promotions hard,” says News Director Amy Adams, a 16-year WOWT veteran. “We try to get the stories people won’t see anywhere else.”
Omaha is thriving. Nielsen’s No. 75 DMA, it ranks 64th in terms of revenue, according to BIA Financial. The market took in $77.3 million last year, per BIA, up from $70.5 million in 2005. NBC affiliate WOWT led with $25.5 million, besting KETV ($22.18). Also in the hunt are Journal Broadcast Group’s CBS affiliate KMTV and Pappas Telecasting’s Fox outlet KPTM. KPTM manages Mitts Telecasting’s CW affiliate KXVO, and Pappas runs MyNetworkTV on a digital channel.
Health care and education drive the economy in Omaha, which is home to ConAgra, First National Bank, and multi-billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. The city keeps pushing out as new people arrive, livening up long-dormant neighborhoods, and turning precincts such as the Market District into funky destinations for residents and revelers alike.
Some station managers believe Omaha’s middling size inoculates it from the economic swings of larger and smaller markets. “I don’t want to jinx it, but I think Omaha would be characterized as a boom town,” says KETV’s Smith. “The national issues with the economy simply don’t affect us in the same way.”
WOWT and KETV are constantly trying to outdo each other. KETV added weekend morning news last year, and Smith stresses strong storytelling and a balanced news approach. WOWT is taking the fight online; Adams calls wowt.com a “channel,” and reminds reporters they can break news 24/7 online. “It needs to be just as important [as on-air],” she says. “If news breaks at 10 a.m., we don’t hold it until the 4 p.m. newscast.”
WOWT has some competition in that hour; KPTM added a 4 p.m. newscast last month. “We saw an opportunity to do a different kind of news for a different kind of viewer,” says KPTM’s Oswald. “It’s an early snapshot of the day’s news before people have dinner.”
KMTV, which finished second in prime thanks to the strong CBS schedule, boasts “First Warning Weather”; weather reports take up a bulk of the real estate on kmtv.com.
Managers say Omaha has a unique blend of very wealthy people, such as investors in Berkshire Hathaway, and blue-collar workers. “The challenge is appealing to all the facets of Omaha,” says Adams, “and making sure you don’t turn anyone off.”
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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.