A six-station TV group hopes to take advantage of the interest that "American Idol" has sparked in amateur musical talent by bringing one of its local shows onto a larger stage in syndication.
The program, titled "Gimme the Mike!," starts a syndication run this month after originating last year as a local talent show on Post-Newsweek Stations' WJXT, an independent station in Jacksonville, Fla. General Electric Co.'s NBC Enterprises is now licensing the format to other local stations across the country.
Post-Newsweek, owned by The Washington Post Co., should be hoping for as much success as another big-name media company that moved one of its local shows into syndication. News Corp.'s Twentieth Television has syndicated "Good Day Live" to 180 markets reaching 94% of the country as the show heads into its second season. In the case of "Good Day Live," the morning show itself-rather than just its format-took the plunge into syndication. The show originated in Los Angeles two years ago as a local experiment by the Fox station group.
While many of the most successful syndicated shows-including "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and "Cops"-originated on local stations, these recent efforts could foster a new wave of local-to-syndie activity.
The "Gimme the Mike!" format offers local advertisers and TV stations several advantages over other syndicated alternatives. The series of talent competitions culminating in one winner resembles a local version of Fox's blockbuster "American Idol." Also like "Idol," advertisers will be offered integrated product placement, an unusual opportunity in local TV programs. All the Post-Newsweek stations that have run "Gimme the Mike!" have put together placement deals with local advertisers.
As of mid-February, 30 stations had signed on for "Gimme the Mike!" At least five stations will launch the limited six-week run series in March, with the majority of other stations to start in June or July.
The stations include heavyweights from the Cox, Belo, Viacom, Capitol Broadcasting, Meredith and NBC station groups. Among them are NBC-owned & operated WNBC, New York; Fox affiliate KTVU, San Francisco; and ABC affiliate WSB, Atlanta. Post-Newsweek and NBC Enterprises retain two 30-second spots during the first five weeks of each run and four spots in the hourlong finale. Those all go to General Motors Corp., the national sponsor.
The upside for a show like "Gimme the Mike!" is that it's a change from traditional syndicated fare of sitcom reruns and talk shows, says Maribeth Papuga, senior VP-director of local broadcast at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest USA, New York. "[Advertisers] are looking at individual and unique programming, and people are looking for the opportunity to align themselves with new things," she says.
Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek, "picked up the phone and called some of his friends at General Motors and did the deal himself with ... key people at General Motors," says Jim Dauphinee, executive producer for "Gimme the Mike!" at Post-Newsweek. "General Motors took a liking to this show instantly because of the grassroots nature of this. They love the fact that it's a homegrown show that exists to partner with."
"Gimme the Mike!" also enables local advertisers to build in product placement and sponsorship, which have largely been impossible given that most locally produced content is news-related, Mr. Dauphinee says.
Many of the stations will use their local spots as a springboard for product placement. That gives local and regional advertisers a chance to cut through the clutter and create a buzz in their local markets, says John Garwood, VP-sales and marketing for Post-Newsweek.
For instance Post-Newsweek's WDIV, an NBC affiliate in Detroit, struck a deal with Doctor's Associates' Subway Restaurants locally to sponsor the green room on the show. While contestants get ready to sing, they'll be eating Subway sandwiches, Mr. Garwood says.
ON WITH OZARKA
In Houston, Post-Newsweek's KPRC, another NBC affiliate, has formed a partnership with Ozarka Natural Spring Water in which the bottles are positioned on the judges' table, an imitation of the Coca-Cola products adorning "American Idol."
KPRC is also finalizing a deal with a local furniture company, since furniture is an important local ad category for broadcasters. The furniture company would donate a chair, like a La-Z-Boy, and viewers could register to win that "Best Seat in the House," Mr. Garwood says.
Post-Newsweek paired with NBC Enterprises because the station group lacked the resources to roll out the format nationally on its own. Sean O'Boyle, senior VP-national syndication sales manager for NBC Enterprises, says his company wasn't specifically looking for such a show, but always has its antennas up for good local content, especially given the success of the old "P.M. Magazine" that originated on the former Group W-owned stations, now part of Viacom.
"If you are independent, you need to partner with someone or gear up and hire and form a [distribution] company," he says.
With "Gimme the Mike!," "We don't ever plan on duplicating the success of `American Idol,' " Mr. O'Boyle says, "but clearly there is a tremendous appetite in local markets for this type of entertainment."
Post-Newsweek isn't waiting until the results are in from "Gimme the Mike!" to start planning more moves into syndication. The station group is developing additional local-format shows that could be rolled out to other markets, Mr. Dauphinee says. Post-Newsweek wouldn't go into specifics.
Mr. Frank, Post-Newsweek's president, expects local stations in general to produce much more non-news local content-shows that would have the potential to jump into syndication. He cites court shows and comedy shows as possible formats for local stations.
A morning news and talk format was the winning formula for Fox's "Good Day Live." The expansion of the Los Angeles-based show is a result of the Fox station group's efforts to develop local content for syndication, says Bob Cook, president-CEO of Twentieth Television, especially given the success of "Cops," which was born on Fox-owned KTTV, Los Angeles, and "Current Affair," hatched on Fox's WNYW, New York.
"Good Day Live" followed a similar model of quiet incubation at the station group before it went into broader distribution.
"The whole idea of rolling these out, sort of staying off of the national radar and putting them into a local market incubation, whether it's one market or 25 markets, gives us the ability to look at different competitive environments, different strengths, lead-ins and lead-outs," Mr. Cook says.