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Blackout suspension for Bills’ games is ‘a Christmas gift’ for broadcasters

The National Football League doesn’t provide many guarantees, but the one it has given to local television stations this season is worth big bucks.

With the season beginning Thursday, it is a good time to revisit the TV rules pertaining to NFL coverage.

The league’s suspension of the blackout rules for this season means that local network affiliates Channel 4 and Channel 29 don’t have to worry about losing Buffalo Bills games 72 hours before kickoff and upsetting advertisers.

The new wrinkle doesn’t help Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate, as much as it does Fox affiliate Channel 29.

Channel 4 goes into every season setting its schedule on the assumption it will carry all the Bills games (they are primarily against AFC opponents) on CBS’ schedule, home and away, so it really isn’t changing its plans.

But the blackout suspension is a big help to Channel 29, the local Fox affiliate that usually gets just two home games featuring NFC opponents.

“It is a Christmas gift for all broadcasters to have every game on,” said Channel 29 General Manager Nick Magnini.

“Especially for us,” he added. “Our two games are always home games. It’s a big-ticket item and clients don’t want to allocate money that they might not use when they learn the game isn’t on three days before it is played. Now that it is on for sure, it is 100 percent better.”

Channel 29 will carry the home games against two quality NFC opponents – the New York Giants on Oct. 4 and the Dec. 27 game against Dallas.

As happy as Magnini is to have those telecasts guaranteed, he adds that this year they most likely would have been sellouts anyway because of the enthusiasm for the Rex Ryan era of the Bills.

“This is a unique year; there is craziness surrounding the team,” said Magnini.

He estimates each Bills telecast earns the local stations just over $100,000 per game.

That would mean more than $1.3 million for Channel 4, which has 13 Bills games barring a late-season move of a game to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

Channel 29 has two games and Channel 7 simulcasts the ESPN game.

The Buffalo market will carry three games each Sunday, except on the weekends that Fox has a doubleheader afternoon game and CBS is carrying a Bills home game, or when Fox carries a Bills home game on a CBS doubleheader Sunday.

Channel 29 loses a Fox doubleheader game on Sept. 20, Dec. 6 and Jan. 3 for that reason. The last two could upset armchair fans since it is close to playoff time, but the NFL could lift the Jan. 3 restriction as it did last season for the final week.

Channel 4 loses a 1 p.m. game on Oct. 4 when the Giants game at The Ralph is on Fox.

The networks usually tell the stations what non-Bills games they are going to receive, but the stations can request different games that they might feel have more interest in Western New York. But the networks have the final say about which games are carried here.


After Tuesday’s premiere of “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” I wrote that I wondered if the uneven and disappointing opener meant it was more probable that first-time viewers of the former Comedy Central star drawn by the hype wouldn’t be back for the second program.

But I didn’t expect what looks like instant rejection in Western New York.

The results Wednesday were almost the reverse of the Tuesday results.

On Wednesday night, “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” won the late-night battle with a 5.1 rating on Channel 2. He was helped by the star power of his guests – Justin Timberlake and Ellen DeGeneres.

Colbert’s second show had a 2.5 rating on Channel 4 and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” had a 1.6 rating.

On opening night when George Clooney and Jeb Bush were the guests, Colbert won with a 4.5 local rating to Fallon’s 2.1 and a 1.6 for Kimmel on Channel 7.

Colbert’s guests Wednesday were actress Scarlett Johansson and Elon Musk. Musk is no Clooney on the star gauge, but you might have expected his involvement in the massive Solar City project here would have drawn some local interest.

A closer look at Wednesday’s results makes things look even worse for Colbert here.

In the first 15 minutes starting at 11:35 p.m., Fallon (4.9) and Colbert (4.8) were in a virtual tie. But at 11:50 p.m., Fallon’s rating rose to a 5.1, while Colbert lost half his audience to a 2.4.

It is early. As I wrote in my Wednesday review, one should judge a late-night program like a marathon and not a sprint. There will be a lot of sampling going on in late-night over the next several weeks and traditionally the roster of guests influences ratings as they appeared to do on Wednesday night.

But the second night’s rating here certainly isn’t encouraging for Colbert.


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