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Wonderfully Weird Austin

Austin is a city where a little eccentricity isn't just tolerated—it's celebrated. “Keep Austin Weird” is a popular slogan around town. It's also the name of a festival and a 5K run.

Austin recently concluded the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival, which showcases an array of avant-garde bands and films. SXSW has grown so much that stations have shifted from reporting on the musical acts to reporting on the traffic issues that go along with a world-class gathering. “It's become more of an international thing and less of a local thing,” says KVUE President/General Manager Patti C. Smith. “But it's great for the economy.”

And Austin's economy could use the help. Tech firms are downsizing, but even when people are laid off, they tend to stay in the No. 49 DMA. “They like Austin, they like the lifestyle,” says KTBC VP/General Manager Mark Rodman. “They're still consuming and still going to entertainment events.”

The market is an entertainment hub. Even after the festivals clear out, there's tons of live music along Sixth Street. Home of the University of Texas and some 100,000 college students, Austin's median age is 32, says one general manager—six years younger than the national number.

As a result, says Rodman, Fox programming plays well. He was boosted to general manager at the Fox O&O around six months ago, and says he's pleased to see news growth. “We've really established ourselves as the go-to news product in times of severe weather,” he says.

Other stations, however, can make the same case. While KTBC won an extraordinarily tight morning news race in March, Belo's KVUE won evenings. The ABC outlet also had the top 10 p.m. news with a 6.1 household rating/10.4 share—about a point better than LIN's NBC affiliate KXAN and Four Points Media-owned CBS affiliate KEYE. KTBC posted a 6.2/9.7 at 9 p.m.

Four Points recently announced Nexstar will run its stations, including KEYE. KXAN manages 54Broadcasting's KNVA, which is a unique hybrid of CW and MyNetworkTV programming. The primary Spanish-language station is Univision's KAKW.

Technological innovations abound among the players. KVUE has the text-messaging news service KVUE 511, has animated weather graphics, and KTBC streams events like the Austin Marathon. KXAN has hired a digital executive producer to ensure that Web stories sizzle the way they do on the air. “The focus here is getting news product out on all platforms as fast as possible,” says KXAN President/General Manager Eric Lassberg.

Managers suggest there's no better place to ride out an economic rough patch. “The good news is, we're in Austin,” Smith says. “It's an incredibly vibrant market.”

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