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Novelas Must Play Ball With Sports

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Raycom Media’s KFVE-TV in Honolulu brands itself as “The Home Team,” because it is the TV home of the University of Hawaii’s numerous sports, from football to women’s volleyball.

But come Sept. 5 it’ll also be the home of MyNetworkTV’s lineup of telenovelas. And pre-empting those novelas to accommodate myriad sporting events could spell trouble if viewers of the serials turn out to be as fiercely loyal as is hoped.

KFVE is scheduled to carry two hour-long telenovelas each weeknight, with hour-long summaries on Saturday nights. General Manager John Fink estimates that from September through May 2007, his station will carry approximately 100 University of Hawaii sports events.

Original programming in prime time 52 weeks a year is one of the selling points of MyNetworkTV, which was conceived by Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television to fill the nightly programming hole that would be left on 10 of the Fox-owned TV stations and many other stations who would be left out in the programming cold by the birth of The CW and the death of UPN and The WB.

Mr. Fink’s sports-related pre-emption scenario is extreme. But for many MyTV affiliates, and many of the Fox-owned MyTV stations, being able to offer broadcasts of local sports franchises is extremely valuable.

Daytime drama addicts roar when breaking news pre-empts their soap operas. The equally serialized nature of the prime-time novelas raises the question of how best to deal with sports-driven pre-emptions so as not to turn off new or potential viewers.

MyTV local stations’ plans to accommodate their sometimes conflicting commitments vary.

Fox is a big believer in the drawing and branding power of sports in local TV.

In the Fox stations group, WWOR-TV in New Jersey has scheduled 19 Friday night New York Yankees broadcasts this baseball season. In March, KCOP-TV in Los Angeles became the TV home of baseball’s Angels.

“Fox-owned MyNetworkTV stations will handle pre-emptions on market-by-market basis and programming will resume directly after the scheduled event,” a Fox stations group spokesperson said.

Nick Waller is the general manager of WCTV, Gray Television’s CBS affiliate and digital-only UPN affiliate in Tallahassee, Fla. The digital UPN station, which has signed as a MyTV affiliate, carries Florida State University sports and some Florida Marlins games.

Mr. Waller said “there’s not going to be a conflict” between the network programming and local sports commitments because “we generally do not pre-empt first-run prime-time programming for sports.”

KFVE’s Mr. Fink, who also is the general manager of NBC affiliate KHNL-TV in Honolulu, said he expects KFVE will deal with the program conflicts the same way that worked “very well” when the station was first a UPN affiliate and then a WB affiliate.

“We tend to [reschedule entertainment programs on] weekend afternoons,” Mr. Fink said. “MyNetworkTV is not programming on Sunday nights, so we might be able to use Sunday night for make-goods in prime.”

That could get complicated with the novelas because “our goal would be to keep them in the correct order.”

“Ideally, you want to be able to run the episodes in the same time periods Monday through Friday, but that said, if it’s occasional pre-emptions, and you have the option of airing in it another time period that viewers are aware of, and there is the sixth-day summary, I think you sort of balance that out,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group, a media consulting firm.

“It is going to have an impact, but if it’s Honolulu, Des Moines and New York [pre-empting the network lineup on the same night] … probably not that big an impact,” Mr. Carroll said. “But if it’s New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and L.A., yeah, of course it is [a big impact].

“This is a unique situation, because we’ve never dealt with Monday through Friday serialized programming in prime time,” he said.