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For KDOC-TV, Dodger deal with Time Warner Cable is big windfall

Viewers are flocking to KDOC-TV, thanks to its deal to carry the final Dodgers games of the regular season

The Los Angeles Dodgers may have clinched the NL West title, but nobody is winning in the ongoing issues that have prevented most residents from watching the season on television.

Nobody except, perhaps, local TV station KDOC-TV Channel 56.

TV viewers are flocking to the station as it carries the final Dodgers games of the regular season, and the additional viewership has been a ratings boon for an outlet best known for its reruns of popular TV shows like "Seinfeld" and "Rules of Engagement."

The late-season arrangement was unusual because Time Warner Cable is compensating KDOC for the programming block. The cable giant is simultaneously running the games on SportsNet LA, the channel owned by the Dodgers that Time Warner Cable distributes. It is also handling advertising sales for the telecast because it already has relationships with advertisers who want to appear during sports events.

KDOC and Time Warner Cable declined to provide specific financial details, but the audience numbers show a ratings win for KDOC.

Most homes in the region don't have access to SportsNet LA. Major cable and satellite distributors including DirecTV have refused to pay the big fees Time Warner Cable wants to carry the Dodgers channel.

Wednesday's division-winning contest, in which star pitcher Clayton Kershaw led the Dodgers to a 9-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants, averaged a whopping 459,000 viewers, according to Nielsen.

The previous two games also drew plenty of viewers. Monday's extra-innings loss to the Giants scored an average of 259,000 people, more than three times the number who watched on the Dodgers' own channel. On Tuesday, the Dodgers' victory averaged 297,000 viewers.

All those results are sharply higher than the average of 18,000 viewers KDOC had for its weeknight prime-time lineup this month before the games began airing.

"It's been a good week," said KDOC's general manager, John Manzi, who has run the station since 2009. "Without question, these Dodgers games have been a substantial boost to our audience."

The Dodgers broadcasts have shone a rare spotlight on the Santa Ana-based station that started airing in 1982.

The station, which employs 40 people, has been owned by Ellis Communications since 2006. Bert Ellis and Anaheim Ducks owners Henry and Susan Samueli bought it for nearly $150 million. Its previous operator was Golden Orange Broadcasting, partly owned by singer Pat Boone.

Famously, KDOC was the longtime TV home of conservative talk show host Wally George until 2003, the year he died. As the host of "Hot Seat," George rose to popularity during the Ronald Reagan administration and was known for his often combative interviewing style.

The station used to rely heavily on classic TV series including "Kojak" and "Hawaii Five-O" but has recently moved to more contemporary programming. KDOC started bringing on more recent shows in 2008, and just began airing "Cougar Town" reruns this week.

Manzi hopes the Dodgers telecasts will increase exposure for shows including "Cougar Town," which has been airing after the games. He also wants to use baseball to bring people to KDOC's recently added news programming.

In January, the station started airing an hour of news from KABC-TV Channel 7 staff at 8 p.m., anchored by David Ono and Coleen Sullivan. KDOC also runs a rebroadcast of KABC's 11 p.m. Eyewitness News telecast at midnight.

Though the games have bumped the weekday evening news program, the station is hoping to use their popularity to promote the telecasts. It's a smaller-scale version of a common tactic networks use when carrying "event" programs such as the Super Bowl and the Oscars.

Mark Ramsey, a San Diego media consultant, noted that live local sports are a major draw for audiences, even more so when access has been restricted.

"It's hugely smart," Ramsey said. "They're looking for a bridge between something everyone is interested in and everything else they have to offer."

Besides reruns and sports, KDOC relies on niche programming such as weekend religious broadcasts and daytime judicial talk shows.

Manzi said KDOC's status as an independent local station makes it well-suited to make quick programming changes to make room for baseball.

The success of the games could result in a future windfall for the station. Analysts said the big sports events could attract more advertisers and drive up KDOC's ad rates if the new viewers stick around to watch other shows.

"If I were KDOC, I'd be trying to capitalize on this all I could," said Cathleen Campe, director of media investment at RPA, an independent ad agency.

Meanwhile, the ratings boost should continue through the weekend as the Dodgers finish out the season Friday, Saturday and Sunday — all on KDOC.

"It's gotten us a lot of new viewers," Manzi said. "We know, over time, more people are going to find it."

Follow Ryan Faughnder on Twitter for more entertainment business coverage: @rfaughnder

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