Houston’s media market has held up a little better than others, thanks to a lower  unemployment rate (8 percent) and a more stable real-estate market. As 2009 draws to a close, a windfall of dollars from a contentious mayoral election and a bump in automotive spending also have contributed to improved market conditions. Political dollars are expected to keep rolling from a Republican primary for the governor’s race in March, and a Senate race to replace the seat held by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Between the digital TV transition and local people meters, ratings among the market’s TV stations have compressed, heightening the local news rivalry between top-rated KTRK-TV, ABC Television’s owned-and-operated station and KHOU, Belo’s CBS affiliate (among English-language stations). The two run neck and neck in late news at 10 p.m., with KTRK edging out KHOU in October by three-tenths of a rating point among adults 25-54.

That said, KXLN, Univision’s owned and operated station, tops all the Anglo stations ratings wise in both early and late news.

Three stations expanded morning newscasts in the market chasing the 14 percent of 2.1 million TV households that are early risers. KTRK led the trend on Aug. 17, adding a 4:30 a.m. newscast, followed by KPRC, Post-Newsweek’s NBC affiliate, a week later. On Sept. 7 KHOU launched 11 News First Look, moving its CBS Morning News to 4 a.m. While most stations started earlier, KRIV, Fox Television’s O&O, shifted later, adding an extra hour at 9 a.m. for a 5-10 a.m. block.

There is also more competition among the Anglo audience for early news. The newest contender is KIAH, Tribune’s CW affiliate, which in late September added newscasts at 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. While there is no video sharing arrangements for news, two stations, KRIV and KPRC agreed in September to share a helicopter for aerial camera footage, saving the stations the cost of leasing the chopper.

Houston is one of two markets in which Arbitron has achieved Media Rating Council accreditation for its portable people meter service. With two years of experience operating under the new ratings system, radio stations have settled in. Ethnic formats that had a rough ratings experience at the start, today rank among the top-rated stations in Houston. After falling in the first PPM ratings from the their top-rated positions, Radio One’s Rhythmic
Contemporary Hit Radio KBXX-FM and Urban Adult Contemporary KMJQ-FM, are back on top, to No. 1 and No. 3, respectively. KLTN-FM, Univision’s Mexican Regional station, has maintained its No. 4-ranked position. Rounding out the top five are two Clear Channel stations, No. 2-ranked Adult Contemporary KODA-FM and No. 5-ranked Alternative KTBZ-FM.

Hearst-owned Houston Chronicle is struggling mightily. Once the seventh largest paper in the nation in terms of circulation, the paper has dropped to No. 9, on a 14 percent decline in weekday circulation to 384,419. To offset declines, the Chronicle has cut more than 300 employees over the last two years. Hearst has already closed the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and threatened to shut down the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though Spanish-language media is popular in Houston, El Dia, the daily paper owned by La Subasta, folded in September after 26 years of publication.

Clear Channel Outdoor is the largest out-of-home company in the market, offering bulletins, posters, bus displays, and taxi advertising. CBS Outdoor provides bulletins. JCDecaux provides airport advertising.
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