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Star Quality

fter having lost its grip on the Dallas-Fort Worth ratings crown in the last two years, Belo's WFAA has come storming back. The ABC affiliate had a blockbuster May sweeps, winning morning, evening and late news, and grabbing total day ratings, too.

WFAA's comeback featured a number of elements: It set up a downtown studio in January 2007, was first up with local high-def programming a month later, added investigative reporting, and pulled off a passing of the weather baton last summer from Dallas legend Troy Dungan to newbie Pete Delkus.

Delkus received heavy marketing, and viewers responded. “When you put a sizable promotion behind someone with exceptional talent, you're going to get some benefit from it,” says WFAA President/General Manager Mike Devlin.

The Dallas economy is holding up well. The market never saw the housing bubble that others did, say station managers, and real estate values continue to hold. Research In Motion, maker of the ubiquitous BlackBerry PDA, is opening an office in Irving later this year that will employ 1,000 people. The beloved Dallas Cowboys are building a new stadium for 2009 that KTVT/KTXA President/General Manager Steve Mauldin calls “the eighth wonder of the world.”

The market is also jazzed about the Barnett Shale, an enormous source for natural gas. That doesn't change the price of gasoline—at around $4 a gallon, it's a heavy hit for a market with long commutes.

The Dallas-Fort Worth population increased 2.3% annually from 2002 to 2007, according to BIA Financial, adding 727,000 residents. “The market just keeps growing,” says KDFW/KDFI VP/General Manager Kathy Saunders, who proudly points out that Texas has surpassed New York in terms of in-state Fortune 500 companies.

The TV market took in $715.5 million in 2007, per BIA, and the top three earners are in an exceedingly tight contest. WFAA led the revenue pack with $136.5 million, nipping NBC O&O KXAS with $134.9 million and Fox O&O KDFW with $130.5 million. KXAS won the revenue race in 2006.

With deep-pocketed parents, duopolies abound: CBS owns and operates KTVT and the independent KTXA, Fox owns KDFW and MyNetworkTV affiliate KDFI, and NBC has KXAS and Telemundo outlet KXTX.

Big backers mean progressive new-media projects. WFAA has seven dedicated staffers for Web content. On the automobile trading front, KXAS has its “Vehix” microsite and KTVT has “It's generating a tremendous amount of hits,” Mauldin says, “and it's making money.”

KXAS, which is looking for a general manager after Tom O'Brien shifted to WNBC New York, has had 5 million page views on its mobile-applications page since it launched earlier this year. “Traditional TV is still the powerhouse, but we're launching products for the way people get their information and live their lives today,” says VP of Content Development Susan Tully.

With new owners at Tribune, station executives are curious to see what KDAF has cooking. VP/General Manager Joe Young says the station, which airs LATV on its digital channel, may add a morning newscast in the fall. “Local, local, local—that's where it's at,” Young says. “That's the only thing that distinguishes your station today.”

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