KHQ 'Zags' When Others Zig
Spokane station builds out sports and weather channel
By Michael Malone -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/27/2009 2:00:00 AM
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Gaga over gonzaga
While many stations are putting their multicast plans on hold until the economy gets better, KHQ Spokane is throwing considerable weight behind its new sports and weather digital channel. Called SWX, the channel features everything from live high school and college sports to minor league hockey to motor sports, and KHQ execs plan to shift high-profile Gonzaga University basketball games to SWX as well.
Owned by Spokane-based Cowles Co., the NBC affiliate is also putting the finishing touches on what President/General Manager Patricia McRae likens to an ESPN Zone-type project—a studio smack in the middle of a lively sports bar where patrons will offer enthusiastic commentary on the day's games. The 1,600-square-foot studio, based in a watering hole called The Q at the Northern Quest Resort & Casino, will have its first live programming on Aug. 30.
“When everyone else scales back, we're moving forward,” says Bill Storms, the longtime KHQ general sales manager who shifted to general manager of SWX. “We're trying to build something of value for our owners.”
Stations are presented with numerous options for their digital tiers (see Station to Station, June 22). These include the classic-hits channel RTV, entertainment network This TV, outdoor-themed Untamed Sports, and a host of Spanish-language channels such as LATV and the emerging Estrella TV, which has recently inked affiliate deals in San Francisco and Albuquerque.
SWX has its own Website at www.swxrightnow.com, and McRae says she views it as “an absolutely separate station” from KHQ. It replaced Weather Plus on the digital tier at the beginning of 2009, and keeps weather enthusiasts informed with six-day forecasts and real-time temps throughout the DMA.
But its bread and butter is sports—a mix of network programming from America One and KHQ's own productions. It's offering a full slate of football fare this fall: The first of 11 weekly local high school games airs Sept. 4, and the first of a lineup of local college games, including teams such as Eastern Washington and the University of Idaho, debuts Sept. 5.
Gaga over gonzaga
Storms has been scrambling for some time to secure rights for all of the above, including those for the Spokane Shock arena football team and Spokane Chiefs hockey squad (the Chiefs became a YouTube sensation when the players broke the championship trophy during an on-ice presentation). He's working to get distribution for Gonzaga men's hoops with the local satellite TV providers, and then plans to move the games from KHQ to the digital channel. Gonzaga's nationally ranked squad, nicknamed the Zags, is a huge draw in the market. “That's big money,” McRae says.
According to Storms, advertiser interest has been excellent, with many trying television for the first time due to the lower price point of a digital channel. He says profitability for SWX, which is not Nielsen-rated, isn't far off: “We hope by next year we'll start to see some black ink.”
Launching a channel without additional staffers has been a challenge, but KHQ executives say employees have been energized by building something when other stations are retrenching. Says Production Manager Doug Miles: “We'll be a year or two ahead of those who have pulled back.”
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