WMYO-TV: Challenge is to Sell Audience on Novelas

Aug 14, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The changes at MyNetworkTV’s Louisville, Ky., affiliate extend all the way to evocative new call letters.

On July 7, Block Communications-owned UPN affiliate WFTE-TV changed its call letters to WMYO-TV as part of its preparations for the Sept. 5 launch of MyNetworkTV. The call lettering on the station’s building, letterhead, business cards and other such business staples has been changed.

If only improving the ad community’s response to MyNetworkTV’s lineup of telenovelas were so easy. Advertisers’ response “has been mixed, to be candid with you about it,” said Bill Lamb, president and general manager of WMYO and Louisville’s Fox-affiliated WDRB-TV. “Some have been excited about it.”

Some are taking a wait-and-see stance.

“We anticipated that,” Mr. Lamb said. “All we have to do is deliver a modest audience and they’ll be back.”

The network’s format is far different from the prime-time norm, and therefore a gamble for not only its owners but also the local stations, like WMYO, who sign on. That’s especially true in markets like Louisville, where the MyNetworkTV format is largely unfamiliar to most viewers. The format borrows heavily from Spanish-language telenovelas, which are popular throughout the world but familiar in this country only to viewers of the Spanish-language networks.

“We’re kind of introducing a new way of watching TV in the United States for the Anglo public or the non-Hispanic public,” Mr. Lamb said.

MyNetworkTV’s telenovela strategy consists of showing new episodes of the same soap opera-style drama each weeknight for 13 weeks, then replacing it with a new novela.

“There’s going to be a little education required,” he said.

Stations will have to show patience as they adopt the MyNetworkTV model, especially in a market like Louisville, where Hispanics make up a small percentage of the population. “It’s growing,” Mr. Lamb said of the local Hispanic population. “But it’s still in the low single digits.”

MyNetworkTV was created by Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television as a rival to The CW, which was formed from the merger of The WB and UPN. MyNetworkTV was needed to replace prime-time programming on Fox-owned UPN affiliates.

Mr. Lamb characterized the upcoming competition between MyNetworkTV and The CW as “a tortoise and hare” situation, with The CW cast as the hare.

“We’ll probably see some prime-time declines in revenue in fourth quarter, or at least early first quarter, whereas I don’t think [The CW affiliate] will. I think they’ll probably launch pretty successfully,” Mr. Lamb said. “But in the long run, and not even all that long a run, I think MyNetworkTV is going to be a much, much better business model.”

Mr. Lamb began “de-branding” the UPN station in February, mere days after MyNetworkTV was announced, to “put immediate distance between us and them.”

Even though Mr. Lamb considers The CW “the love child of two failed networks,” he did make a pitch for the CW affiliation in Louisville. That pitch included zero reverse compensation, meaning the station wouldn’t pay the network for programming. The CW went out to the affiliate market requesting reverse compensation.

“We didn’t think it was worth it,” Mr. Lamb said.

As a MyNetwork TV affiliate, Mr. Lamb will pay Fox nothing and will get nine minutes of commercial time per hour in the network’s 13 hours of programming per week, while the network keeps five minutes.

“We will have three times as much inventory as they will in prime time,” Mr. Lamb said, referring to the three minutes of local commercial inventory per hour that The CW affiliates will get. “That means that right out of the chute, if we do a 2 rating, they’ve got to do a 6 rating to equal us. Which, by the way, is completely impossible. I don’t think even ABC is doing a 6 rating in general in this market.”

That math persuades Mr. Lamb he made the right decision going with MyNetworkTV.

“We will make a lot more money,” he said. “If you give me a call in 12 months and ask, were you right or wrong?, I’ll bet you the store that we are way ahead of them. For this market, everything probably shook out the way it should,” he said.

Mr. Lamb is sinking about $100,000 into radio advertising and an outdoor teaser campaign that will roll out over three weeks in August. He doesn’t expect to promote on cable.

WDRB ranks fourth in annual share of revenue in the $91 million-plus Louisville market, the 50th largest in the country. The station has a very competitive four-hour local morning show, “Fox in the Morning.”

“We’ll be able to get our program manager on there, or me, just to introduce the audience to the concept,” he said. “It’s another promotional platform.”

Mr. Lamb says he’s heartened by News Corp.’s plans to use its MySpace.com social-networking Web site to promote MyNetworkTV. MySpace is scheduled to feature 10 originally produced elements per day that are created around the novelas, their characters, casts and story lines.

The MySpace promotion has prompted WMYO to complete its Web site. It will launch in mid-August and feature various links to MySpace.com, which Mr. Lamb thinks could serve as a sort of watercooler while MyNetworkTV is establishing itself.

Mr. Lamb is also using more traditional promotions, inviting community and advertising leaders to an in-studio party introducing MyNetworkTV. WMYO is also putting previews of debut programs from the “Secret Obsessions” and “Desire” blocks onto DVDs that Mr. Lamb’s sales staff is disseminating on client visits.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job of getting ready for this,” Mr. Lamb said.