DILLER'S LATEST: LOCAL TV FARE IN MIAMI BEACH -- INNOVATIVE EXEC COULD ROLL NEW CITY VISION IDEA TO ALL 12 STATIONS OF USA BROADCASTING

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Miami Beach, with its oceanside streets lined by palm trees, chic boutiques and trendy eateries, is about to add a new attraction courtesy of Barry Diller -- a street-level studio that will beam live programming, and live commercials, to south Florida's living rooms.

Mr. Diller, creator of the Fox network and now chairman-CEO of USA Networks, is thinking small with what he believes is the next big idea in TV -- getting consumers to switch from network programming to intensely local fare.

And if the City Vision concept flies in the Miami area, the plan is to expand it to a dozen other cities, reaching most of the top 10 U.S. markets.

MIAMI-BASED PROGRAMS

In the heart of the Art Deco district, Mr. Diller is turning the ground floor of a curved, seven-story building into the first City Vision production facility. He'll spend $35 million this year to create up to 10 hours of original, Miami-based daily programming on the newly dubbed WAMI-TV.

Formerly WYHS, the station also will carry innovative custom advertising, such as product placement and live commercials.

No deals are set yet, but a mix that includes 70% local advertisers is the goal.

"The last time live commercials were done was with Ed McMahon on `The Tonight Show,' " Dick Singer, WAMI's director of sales, said in a recent interview in his barren office.

Builders are working overtime to get the facility ready for City Vision's late May launch, wiring a $12 million studio that will face the bustling Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. Executives think passersby will line up to become part of live audiences for dance shows, news-discussion and children's programs.

"We want to use the studio and the street," said Jon Miller, president-CEO of USA Networks' USA Broadcasting, the new group consisting of former Silver King Communications TV stations.

OTHER CITIES?

If Mr. Diller's launch is successful, City Vision will roll onto USA Broadcasting's 12 other UHF stations, which serve most of the top 10 markets. The plan is to leverage the strengths of each city's character, such as entertainment in Los Angeles and finance in New York, though the notion becomes less obvious for smaller markets such as Rapid City, S.D.

The 13 stations now currently air USA Broadcasting's Home Shopping Network, which will be reassigned onto cable.

Explaining how City Vision could work, USA Broadcasting Exec VP Adam Ware said the company expects to win 2% of Miami's estimated $420 million in TV ad revenue in the first year, 3.5% the next and a total of 5% to 6% soon thereafter, reaching break even in four years and making a profit in its seventh year.

"Miami is the 17th-largest market but ninth in [ad] revenues -- it consistently overdelivers and doesn't look like it's weakening," said Mr. Ware, who compared the cost structure of WAMI to other independent stations.

MEDIA PARTNERSHIPS

Media partnerships are important to City Vision, which has teamed up with the nationally known local fashion magazine Ocean Drive for a weekly program of the same name. There also are plans for a show called "City Desk" in conjunction with The Miami Herald.

For more than three years, Mr. Singer worked as a consultant for Knight-Ridder and helped launch a similarly themed Philadelphia-based program, "Inquirer News Tonight." The show followed newspaper reporters "Cops"-style for behind-the-scenes stories.

Broadcast journalism on WAMI is to take a different tack as well. The station's news programs will drop the traditional "if it bleeds it leads" format for a more tabloid-style look at the area's events. News programming also will use the live studio for daily discussion.

"Local news shows have all become imitators of themselves," Mr. Singer said. "If you take off their names and graphics, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart."

A more traditional viewer hook to WAMI will be the National Basketball Association -- USA Broadcasting has paid $6.5 million for broadcast rights to Miami Heat games.

`CONNECT WITH VIEWERS'

"We're not expecting to be No. 1 in Miami but an alternative -- one that reflects the styles and sensibilities of south Florida," said Mr. Singer, who hopes to sell title sponsorships to programming as well. "Sure, it's a lot cheaper to take a barter show out of Hollywood, but what happens to identity? We're going to connect with viewers and connect advertisers to them."

And that's what is hoped will really give the station a leg up. "We can talk to advertisers about a lot more than just buying time," Mr. Singer said. "We're going to integrate advertisers' products into shows. What's fascinating about this area is it's become a fashion and music capital."

`GENERATION N'

Youth is a big part of the plan. WAMI will air "Generation N," a half-hour weekly program in English for Spanish and English bilingual Generation Xers, and kids-oriented afternoon fare with a live wraparound of Fox children's shows (not aired by the local Fox affiliate), to be called "WAMI on Miami."

One of its cheaper programming concepts is "Traffic Jams," which will simply show a map of the city with traffic hot spots highlighted and a split screen showing weather info, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Music will be played in the background and banner ad sponsorships will be available, along with regular commercial spots shown in the weather portion of the split screen.

USA Broadcasting has been very active lately. It recently became a majority investor in Universal Television, acquired Ticketmaster Group and also has USA Networks and Sci-Fi Channel in the family.

After five years as head of programming for the NBA, USA Broadcasting's Mr. Miller went to Nickelodeon and helped launch that network in the U.K. and continental Europe, where he created a similar live children's programming block.

"It was difficult at first," said Mr. Miller, who was used to easily getting 30 million U.S. viewers for NBA playoff games and had to adjust to England's smaller population. "Even though [Nickelodeon] had a good product, we had to make it salient to British residents."

RELATING TO VIEWERS

The key, he explained, was in realizing that "if you have fewer viewers, you can relate to them better."

Hence, the effort toward localism.

WAMI's schedule won't be 100% local, however. It will carry the syndicated "Politically Incorrect" in prime time and variety talk show "The Magic Hour" with Magic Johnson.

Down the road, USA Broadcasting stations also may end up syndicating some of their shows -- when they fit elsewhere -- with USA Network. And Universal Television or USA Network programs could appear on City Vision.

"We're all helping build something, both here and elsewhere," Mr. Singer said. "How often do you get to be in on the ground floor of something? We're trying to do TV that's real different and creating the rules as we go."

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