WBKI-TV: Familiar Programs, Potential Confusion

Aug 14, 2006  •  Post A Comment

At WBKI-TV in Louisville, Ky., the pace is torrid as the Cascade Broadcasting-owned station prepares this summer to take out all references to The WB and replace them with references to The CW at midnight Sept. 17.

Even the Michigan J. Frog flag that has flown at the station will be lowered, retired and folded away.

By the time the flag is taken down ceremoniously on Sept. 18, if Cascade CEO Carol LaFever and her WBKI team have done their jobs, all the right people-the 18- to 34-year-olds in the 50th-largest TV market in the country-will know what The CW is and what shows are on it.

They might even be wearing T-shirts that bear the CW slogan, “Free to Be.”

In addition to promoting The CW on cable and radio and outdoor and transit venues, WBKI will hand out 20,000 of the tees, suitable for customizing.

“We’re going to be taking them out to events and handing people Sharpies and fabric pens and saying, put what you want on there. We will be encouraging people to rip holes in them, to rip sleeves off them, to write stuff all over them,” Ms. LaFever said.

She got the idea from her 19-year-old daughter and best friend, who exchange elaborately graffiti-ed T-shirts.

For weeks, WBKI has been educating agencies and buyers, as well as viewers, about The CW. “Clarifying the confusion,” the Cascade executive calls it.

Ms. LaFever said she cannot talk about when or for how much WBKI’s CW affiliation deal was made. The CW was seeking reverse compensation from stations, meaning the station pays a fee for carrying the programming, but different stations have different terms.

WBKI was among the first non-Tribune, non-CBS affiliations announced in February. The CW was born of the decision by Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. to kill The WB and UPN and assemble one network from the strongest prime-time shows carried by each. When the network was announced in late January, it had lined up affiliations with several Tribune and CBS-owned stations.

“We’re happy with the terms,” Ms. LaFever said in an e-mail last week.

There is an aggressive campaign to get information to the advertising community by the middle of August, when the orders begin building for commercial time in September and the fourth quarter.

“The response has been very, very good,” Ms. LaFever said. “The ad community is embracing it very, very well.”

It helps that there is performance history for most of the shows in the market, since much of The CW’s schedule is culled from UPN and The WB series. The CW will provide prime-time programming from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and also retains The WB’s afternoon and Saturday morning programming blocks.

Cascade’s KWBA-TV in Tucson, Ariz., also is going CW. In Tucson, which ranks 71st but is a growing market, Ms. LaFever is confidently projecting ratings increases.

“Our Louisville station has had a fantastic year, so I can’t project as well there,” she said. WBKI is running about 120 percent ahead of last year.

Cascade aims for 15 percent market revenue share growth per year from its stations. KWBA was started in 1999 and WBKI started in 2000, so “some of that is just inherent growth,” Ms. LaFever said. WBKI turned into one of The WB’s strongest affiliates.

The Louisville market was valued at more than $91 million in 2005. Tucson was valued in the low $70 millions.

Starting July 31, WBKI began carrying the prime-time run of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which it picked up from Belo-owned ABC affiliate WHAS-TV. It is running at 10:30 p.m., right after the half-hour newscast produced by WHAS for WBKI.

“I believe we can promote back into the news from ‘Oprah’ and forward into ‘Oprah’ from the news and get some nice, consistent flow,” Ms. LaFever said.

“Oprah” will add weight to WBKI’s late fringe lineup. The locally produced paid programming that has been running after the news now will run after “Oprah.”

WBKI carries a number of “fee-able” local programs, including “Firepower TV,” in which two local, self-described “gun guys” test a variety of weapons.

The paid-programming revenue accounts for a “negligible percentage” of the station’s revenues, and the programming is more valuable for its localism, Ms. LaFever said.

Like many stations affiliated with UPN and The WB, the lion’s share of revenue is made in the early-fringe and access blocks, and not with two hours of prime-time network programs.

However, she has hopes that The CW’s prime-time lineup will become more of a ratings and revenue magnet with a halo effect that extends into late fringe.

“I feel positive about it financially,” Ms. LaFever said. “I came out of the upfront saying, tongue-in-cheek, ‘Boy, this is the first time I don’t have to apologize for at least one night of programming.”

The final two weeks of UPN’s prime-time programming will run in late fringe on both Cascade stations. MyNetworkTV, the network started by Fox to replace UPN, launches Sept. 5.