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NBA lockout dishes out whammy to Diller’s WAMI

Ratings warming up, but Heat repeats cold

MIAMI — Last Christmas, Barry Diller bought his embryonic Miami TV station a $6.5 million present — five-year rights to local NBA games — but halfway into the November sweeps, the gift remains unwrapped.

After months of Miami Heat-related hype and branding on Diller’s local-programming experiment WAMI, the ongoing NBA lockout is dealing a major blow to the station’s ramp up.

An initial attempt to find an alternative attraction Tuesday night — a repeat of last year’s game-seven semi-final matchup with the Knicks — tanked with a 0.3 rating.

“It’s very disappointing, but we believe in the idea. We didn’t have time to promote it properly,” said WAMI editor-in-chief Matti Leshem.

Deadline approaching

“We’ve got two weeks to promote the next one,” he adds, referring to a repeat of the Heat’s 1997 regular season victory over the Bulls that’s skedded for Nov. 24.

Still, a 0.3 — or even twice that — is a far cry from the 4 points and up that WAMI expects from live Heat games, which it was slated to start carrying Nov. 3.

(The local UPN affil averaged 4 points with the Heat last season, and WAMI reckons its superior presenters and graphics will take its Nielsens higher.)

Altogether, some 15 games were on the slate for November and December, with another 27 for the first months of 1999.

The good news

But there’s consolation on two fronts. First, WAMI doesn’t have to pay unless the Heat plays.

Second, all of WAMI’s shows except one have seen ratings gains since the July sweeps, according to Leshem.

Newscast “The Times,” streetwise beauty contest “10s” and primetime reruns of “MASH” have all been getting 1.0 ratings on a regular basis, said programming chief Chuck Budt.

Afternoon kiddie block “WAMI on Miami” has recovered from a September back-to-school dip, Budt added, and a live event at a local mall hosted by the show drew 4,500 tykes last weekend.

During the sweeps, WAMI has played up the local rivalry between Dade and Broward counties (South Florida’s main population centers) and launched a “Live a Day Like a Millionaire” contest.

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