Urban Cowboys

Dallas has played a significant role in TV history. Coverage of the JFK assassination transformed the medium into a key source for breaking news. Today, the No. 7 Nielsen market is dominated by a diverse local economy, led by health care, tech, and tourism. Dubbed Silicon Prairie, Dallas-Fort Worth is one of the nation's largest high-tech centers.

And recently, powerhouse WFAA got knocked off its No. 1 perch. Dallas just become a much more competitive media town.

Riding the wave of strong network lead-ins, CBS O&O KTVT kicked the 10 p.m. newscast of Belo's WFAA into third place in the February sweeps—for the first time. "That's not a good feeling for a station that is used to winning," admits Kathy Clements, WFAA president and general manager. The station continues to rule at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., helped by a huge early lead-in by Oprah, which the station has aired since the mid 1980s.

Similarly, Fox-owned KDFW celebrated a station first: Its four-hour morning news block pulled ahead of both Good Morning America
and Today
in the February sweeps. Meanwhile, NBC's KXAS won handily at 10 p.m. for the seventh consecutive sweeps period. "We are all about live, local, late-breaking news, and the audience has responded," says Brian Hocker, vice president of programming and operations.

Dallas stations are finding creative ways to promote their digital broadcasts. WFAA generates two digital feeds: an HD version of regular programming and a low-bandwidth automated channel that carries local news, weather, and sports. KXAS has announced plans to offer its news broadcasts on-demand to Comcast's 500,000 subscribers come July.

Belo operates Texas Cable News, a 24-hour regional service. But flat terrain and an abundance of broadcast signals make for a poor cable market; penetration is a paltry 46%. Comcast is the region's biggest operator. About one in four households is connected to satellite service, well above the national average of 18%.

A prosperous, growing Hispanic population has created new opportunities. Univision owns KUVN (Univision) and KSTR (Telefutura). KXTX, owned by NBC, carries Telemundo programming. Azteca America, owned by Mexico's TV Azteca, has an agreement with KODF, a low-power station. Still, WFAA remains No. 1 from sign-on to sign-off. Says Clements: "People have depended on us for years."