shifts programming emphasis to African-American viewers
Crain’s Detroit Business (November
12, 2007) The local television industry is taking a wait-and-see approach
to the decision by WADL-TV Channel 38 to shift its focus from primarily
religious, infomercial and home-shopping programs to programming aimed at
metro Detroit's African-American audience.
The Clinton Township-based station, which is unaffiliated with a national
network and has been on the air since 1986, has acquired several
syndicated shows. They range from 1970s comedies such as "Sanford and Son"
and "The Jeffersons" to contemporary shows such as MTV's "Pimp My Ride"
and "Chappelle's Show."
Lewis Gibbs, WADL's president and general manager, declined to say how
much the station is spending on new content, but local television insiders
estimate it's between $100,000 and $250,000.
WADL has likely purchased some of the shows outright in syndication deals,
while others are probably brokered. That means the syndicator offers the
show in return for most or all advertising time, insiders said.
WADL is hiring about a dozen new staffers, including sales
representatives, Gibbs said. The station also retained New York City-based
Blair Television Inc. to handle national advertising sales. Oak Park-based
Boswell Creative was hired to rebrand the channel as "Detroit's Urban
Television Station" in print and broadcast advertisements and a Web site,
The station is taking advantage of what it perceives as a gap in
urban-aimed programming in Detroit that was created when CBS Corp.'s UPN
and Warner Bros. Entertainment's WB networks changed to more mainstream
content, Gibbs said.
Earlier this year, UPN and WB merged, locally becoming the CW affiliate
WKBD-TV Channel 50. WMYD-TV Channel 20, which had been the local WB
affiliate, became an affiliate of News Corp.-owned MyNetworkTV.
"They left a tremendous void in the market for urban programming," Gibbs
said. "Now was the time because of the huge hole in the market. It was a
great opportunity for us to do that with programming."
Sarah Norat-Phillips is vice president and general manager of WMYD and is
familiar with the shift in emphasis.
"Both the WB and UPN started their networks with a heavier leaning to
African-American programming," she said. "As those networks evolved, they
moved away from that core programming strategy."
Norat-Phillips thinks WADL's strategy can work, but only if it finds the
mix of programming that viewers want.
While WMYD may carry less niche programming, it and other Detroit stations
still aim to attract African-American viewers and advertisers seeking to
tap that audience.
"Everyone in the market understands the power of the African-American
viewer and consumer," Norat-Phillips said. "None of us had abandoned the
Detroit's 391,600 African-American television-viewing households make it
the seventh-largest market nationally in that demographic, according to
the New York-based audience-tracking service Nielsen Media Research.
Local media buyers are aware of the changes at WADL, and there is some
interest in connecting advertisers to the channel
"We do have some business that targets African-American adults, especially
state government," said Micci Lasser, senior media buyer at Brogan &
Partners Convergence Marketing in Birmingham. "It's going to be a kind of
wait-and-see type of thing. It's definitely something we'd look at. We
have bought urban programming in the past."
There is no magic formula when it comes to appealing to a specific
audience, but there are some general guidelines, said Jessica Pelligrino,
general manager of Spanish-language station Univision WUDT-TV Channel 23
"You have to have advertising and programming that gears toward the
specific community," she said. "There isn't a single show out there
everyone watches. We all have different tastes and want different kinds of
If WADL airs "the right shows at the right times and (promotes them), they
could have a very successful formula," Pelligrino said.
Chris McCourtney, general manager of the radio group Salem Detroit and
former ad salesman for ABC affiliate WXYZ-Channel 7, said there are more
questions than answers over the programming shift at WADL.
"Clearly, there's an urban audience to be addressed in Southeast Michigan,
and it is (a) substantial audience, but can we make it make sense as a
business?" he said. "Can they get a meaningful enough audience to sell
advertising and support it?"
WADL President Gibbs also heads The Word Network, a widely distributed
cable and satellite channel of paid religious programming. He said that
channel's content, which has long been seen on WADL, eventually will be
replaced with secular programming, although some religious content will
Channel 38 and The Word Network were founded by Franklin Adell, who died
in 2006. His son Kevin now operates parent company Adell Broadcasting
WADL's broadcasting history includes CBS programming, pro wrestling,
classic movies, music videos and Fox children's shows. Other new
syndicated content includes more broadly aimed shows such as "The Nanny"
and "Mad About You."
The content mix will make or break WADL's effort, McCourtney said.
"If it's bad TV, it's bad TV. It doesn't matter who the audience is."
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