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MIAMI A little more than a year after its traumatic birth, Barry Diller's local programming baby is at last learning to walk.

Miami's Channel 69, WAMI, has carved a small but decent slice of the nation's ninth-largest TV ad pie. But it's a less local-looking outlet than Diller's USA Broadcasting planned for, raising questions as to how local any station viably can be.

More than focusing on inhouse production, which has reaped very modest ratings at WAMI, Diller may have to spend big on sports to make a go of his City Vision concept in markets into which he would like to expand the idea. Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dallas are next up, and greenlights are expected this summer.

May success

WAMI has certainly given rivals something to think about: Its May primetime rating of 2.3, with a 3% share, was ahead of Telemundo's WSCV (1.5/2) and Pax TV's WPXM (1.1/2) and not terribly far behind UPN's WBFS (4.4/7) or WB's WBZL (4.6/7). (In MiamiFt. Lauderdale, one rating point equals 14,000 homes.)

Since January, ad revenues have grown "exponentially," execs say, and are now over-indexing vs. audience share.

While seven new clients signed on in first quarter 1999, 36 new clients have begun utilizing WAMI in the second quarter, including auto makers and Hollywood studios.

"In ad share, our goal is to be No. 5 in the market. That's reachable in two years' time," says station manager Chuck Budt. Doug Binzak, exec VP of USA Broadcasting, adds that WAMI should be breaking even at that time.

But exclude WAMI's rights to two sports franchises -- basketball's Miami Heat and baseball's Florida Marlins -- and local shows make up just 16 hours per week, down from 46 hours at launch. Further, while sportscasts typically earn 3-5 ratings points and films average 1.5, most local productions hover in the 0.5-1.0 region.

Great expectations

WAMI debuted on June 8 last year with great expectations for parlaying Miami's cultural diversity and party-town rep into a showcase of original product. The launch was riddled with hitches, and a month later, station manager Alfredo Duran was dropped in favor of Budt.

Matti Leshem, WAMI's editor-in-chief, admits station execs tried to do too much too soon: "We weren't focused on taking a couple of great ideas and making them good. It was a scattershot approach. It caused us tremendous problems."

Moving with `MASH'

It was when WAMI retreated somewhat and put "MASH" and films in evening slots that advertisers began to respond. Ratings picked up further when the NBA lockout ended: WAMI posted a tidy February sweeps average of 4.6/7 for Heat games.

Diller paid $3.5 million for six-year rights to the Marlins, and $6.5 million for five-year rights to the Heat. Binzak denies that sports are essential to the concept, but acknowledges that USA is "aggressively pursuing" teams in each of the potential City Vision markets.

Leshem admits disappointment over some local fare, particularly a magazine for young Hispanics that had seemed a slam-dunk. Yet those that have gained some traction offer lessons -- and syndication potential -- for Diller's future startups.

Newscast "The Times" has an educated but small following, with its offbeat, investigative approach to news. Fans praise it for not talking down to viewers, and anchor Ben Mankiewicz was just named South Florida's best by the Miami New Times.

Beauty contest "10s" manages to be sexy, cheesy and ironic all at the same time, and was recently upped from a weekly to a nightly format. Both "10s" and "Ocean Drive," a fashion and clubbing mag, have won interest from other cities, Leshem says.

Goofy branding

Leshem says WAMI has also made strides in offering added value to advertisers. Latest development is "Live!," a soon-to-bow promotional minute, aired 18 times daily, in which hosts plug a brand while conducting goofy contests or product sampling.

Future plans for original programming are modest, however. Once regular-season baseball is over, WAMI will have little new product to offer that doesn't come in cans.

The fall should witness one or two originals of the talk/magazine variety, but evenings will largely see action pics plus "Married ... With Children" and "Cops" reruns.
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Title Annotation:changes at Miami radio station
Comment:WAMI NOW SPORTS LESS-LOCAL FARE.(changes at Miami radio station)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jun 21, 1999
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