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Channel 4’s sports decision could be an opening for Channel 7

This is what I’m thinking:

Despite an improved product, Channel 7 hasn’t been able to grow its news audience since E.W. Scripps took over as owner.

It needs one of its rival stations to give viewers a reason to switch.

Channel 4’s decisions to drop a traditional 6 p.m. sportscast and have meteorologists Don Paul and Todd Santos on the same newscast, essentially doing four weather segments, could be the ticket if those unorthodox ideas don’t work.

The dropping of a traditional sports report in the 6 p.m. newscast seems to be something an out-of-town consultant would recommend. However, Channel 4’s new news director, Scott Levy, has told me it was his decision.

Levy is a newcomer to the area and might not realize how much Western New York hates change, embraces tradition and loves sports.

At 6 p.m. Monday, Channel 4 sports director Steve Vesey led the newscast with an interview with University at Buffalo men’s basketball coach Bobby Hurley and followed it with a report on school spirit on the campus after it qualified for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Vesey did another report on UB basketball in the first 10 minutes of the telecast.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Channel 4 led with a news story on UB basketball and 12 minutes later Vesey did a feature on the heart condition of UB star Justin Moss. It was a great story and might have even seemed new to people who haven’t followed UB basketball and have read about it or seen it before.

So from the first three days, it was clear Channel 4 isn’t abandoning sports at 6 p.m. It is putting significant sports stories in the first 15 minutes and just didn’t follow-up with a traditional sports report around 6:24 p.m. as it normally would have.

Its rivals went with tradition, reporting on the Bills and Sabres and high school sports during the playoff season and not only the UB story. It is a feel-good story, but interest in the Bills, especially during this crazy offseason, still far exceeds interest in the Bulls.

Channel 4’s new 6 p.m. policy would seem to give an opportunity for Channel 2 and Channel 7 to grab the traditional sports crowd at 6 p.m. and get Channel 4 viewers to change the channel.

However, it really isn’t that much of a risk for Channel 4. It has the smallest and weakest sports department in town. Lauren Brill is a channel-changer when she subs for Vesey anyway.

It is a marathon and not a sprint and most viewers are unlikely to instantly realize Channel 4 has dropped its traditional sports report at 6 p.m. After all, Channel 4 is unlikely to run promos that say “Tune in at 6, where we have dropped a traditional sports report.”

The fact that viewers aren’t aware yet may minimize the importance of the results of the first few days of the switch, but they are still interesting to look at.

On the first day of the switch Monday, before many people realized that Channel 4 had dropped its traditional sportscast, viewership of all three stations didn’t fluctuate to any significant degree during the time sports traditionally airs.

On Tuesday, Channel 7 saw a nice bump of around 20 percent during traditional sports time around 6:24 p.m.

It could be weeks or even months before we learn if Channel 4’s unorthodox move will be a winner or if it will backfire. But if I were Channel 7, I’d start running promos highlighting Channel 4’s decision to de-emphasize a traditional sports report at 6 p.m. and tell viewers that WKBW-TV is doing just the opposite and has hired Joe Buscaglia away from WGR radio as the third member of its sports team.

When you are No. 3, it is smart to emphasize the differences between you and your rivals. It would even be better if the Channel 7 promos were written in a humorous way.

• While I’m on the subject of Channel 7’s promos, it has a winner in the one that promotes the fact that all members of its weather team have local roots. I don’t believe any members of Channel 4’s weather team is originally from here, though Don Paul and Mike Cejka have been around so long that viewers probably think of them as neighbors. As good as that Channel 7 promo is, Channel 2 still has the best promos by far.

• Inquiring minds want to know: What were the top broadcast network series in Western New York during the February sweeps? Here are the Top 20 in household ratings, live and up to seven days later: “The Big Bang Theory,” “NCIS,” “Blue Bloods,” “The Voice,” “The Odd Couple,” “The Blacklist,” “NCIS: New Orleans,” “Hawaii 5-0,” “Mom,” “Modern Family,” “Mike & Molly,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scorpion,” “2 Broke Girls,’ “Criminal Minds,” “Elementary,” “Person of Interest,’ “The Mentalist,” “American Idol” and “Grimm.”

You may notice that CBS series, which usually appeal to older, traditional viewers, dominate the list with 15 series. NBC has three and Fox and ABC one each. Of course, Fox, ABC and NBC often do better with demographics.

The inclusion of “The Odd Couple,” deserves an asterisk. Only one episode played in February and that was after “Big Bang.” Its audience has been slipping and with good reason. It is a very old-looking program.

• Channel 4’s Lauren Hall and Andrew Baglini deserve some kind of award for working double shifts. Hall does traffic reports in the early morning and early evening, which makes for a very long day. Baglini works mornings and nights on the weekend.

• Inquiring minds want to know: Will New York Yankee games appear on WNYO as they had last season? WNYO and WUTV General Manager Nick Magnini reports the station has a new three-year agreement to carry a 21-game package of Yankee games that augments the game on its YES network, ESPN and Fox. The new wrinkle this year is that some games may be carried on WUTV.

• Finally, I consider the documentary, “I Hate Christian Laettner,” one of the Top 10 all-time installments of ESPN’s “30 for “30” film series. And you have no excuse for missing it since it is on one of ESPN’s networks throughout this month and early next month. It repeats at 9:30 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU and also will air on ABC at 4 p.m. April 4, the day of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament semifinals.


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