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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 16, 2005

Local kine finds on OC16

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

If one day you should find yourself standing at the food counter asking "What would Lina Girl order?" or walking down the beach humming that maddeningly catchy theme song from "Cooking with Cutty," or staring at your day planner and contemplating how much time it would really take to become a surfer, and architect AND a ninja ... do not scream and do not reach for the Wellbutrin.

Top left, "Hawaii's Reel Stories" features Cathy Tanaka and Jason Suapaia. Top right, "Da Braddahs & Friends" stars Tony Silva and James Roache. Lower left, "Local Kine Grindz" features Lina Girl and Bruddah Sam. Lower right "Dis-and-Dat" stars JK, Amber and Kutmaster Spaz. All shows are locally made and air on OC16.

Photos courtesy of OC16

Thanks to aggressive marketing and the Big Bang growth of it programming offerings, cable station OC16 is on the minds a lot of Hawai'i residents these days.

In the past year alone, Oceanic Time Warner Cable's 24-hour in-house station has expanded its roster of original, locally produced programming from 12 shows to more than 30, with new ones being considered every week. The rapid growth has revealed not just broad community interest in Hawai'i-based programs, but an enormous pool of up-and-coming producers waiting to be seen and heard.

"I think the station gives talented local producers a chance to showcase their stuff," said Mitzi Lehano, Oceanic's vice president of programming. "This is something wasn't really available until now. We created OC16 to share with the local community what is already close to their hearts.

"We're not trying to be like the broadcast networks," she said. "There is a ton of great national programming, but it's hard for viewers to find high-quality local stuff. They never show it. We're just trying to share really good programming that mirrors the lifestyle that we in Hawai'i are familiar with."

The station also favors shows that communicate positive messages to younger viewers, like Kutmaster Spaz's "Dis-N-Dat."

OC16 approached Spaz about creating a youth-oriented series after a film he had made was aired on Oceanic's Video on Demand.

"The show is another way to push a positive message about being drug free," he said. "Its a wider way to reach out to people and to show positive role models and teens doing great things with their lives."

"Dis-N-Dat" started airing in Las Vegas this month, and may be picked up in Washington and Canada.

Spaz said OC16, with its emphasis on the community, is an ideal station for his show and the diversification of its programming can only help.

Broader audience

"NRG," a health and fitness show, features executive producers, from left, Kalai'i Miller, Kevin Yen and Ikaika Kimura. Miller is the show's host.


Once known strictly for its coverage of high school sports, and later for a short menu of quirky, low-budget, high-rotation programs aimed at younger viewers, OC16 has dramatically broadened its scope with original programming that covers sports, cooking, cars, surfing, home improvement, comedy and music — all with a local flavor. Production quality for many of the shows has also improved enough to attract more discerning older viewers.

"We used to skew younger, in the 12 to 24 age group, but now our programming can appeal to any demographic," said programming manager Lianne Killion. "Basically, what we offer is 100 percent local programming that is PG-rated so the whole family can watch."

Marilyn Lam of Waipahu discovered the station while channel surfing.

And while she doesn't keep track of when specific shows are on, she said she's always happy when she happens upon the Hawaiian-music show "Hawaiian Classics" or "Living Local with the Baraquios."

Lam said she even sends tapes of OC16 shows to her daughter, Kristi Char, who's in her second year of college on the Mainland.

"She gets homesick and I don't know what to send," Lam said. "So I just record whatever is on and send 'em with the crack seed and the saimin."

Killion said she'd like the station to get to the point where people are doing more "appointment viewing" — making plans to watch or record specific shows — and less random drop-ins. Still, she said, research has shown that when people find the shows, they tend to stop flipping stations.

The most consistently successful shows are "Hawaii Goes Fishing," "The June Jones Show," "Da Braddahs and Friends," "Living Local with the Baraquios" and the in-house production "Hawaiian Classics," Killion said.

Lehano, who negotiated the station's initial deal to cover OIA sports 16 years ago, said local sports is still the station's key to growth.

At least 20 of the station's non-sports-related shows have earned the minimum Nielsen rating of 1 — a significant accomplishment for a local cable programming, indicating that at least 4,000 Hawai'i households have tuned in. Meanwhile, OC16's coverage of University of Hawai'i volleyball and other sports have consistently drawn ratings of 3 or better.

Sports still important

"Hawaii Skin Divers" has given Kyle Nakamoto a chance to show off his great underwater footage.

Red Sea Ocean Adventures

The station plans to increase its coverage of women's sports and will broadcast nearly an entire season of softball. Also, two of its sports magazine shows, "Inside OC16 Sports" and "Sports People Hawai'i" are merging, bringing together a strong roster of established sports reporters headed by Dave Vinton.

Last year, OC16 took in just over $1 million in advertising, well below network affiliate standards but very respectable for a local cable station. Construction of a new studio at an Oceanic warehouse is almost complete, and Lehano estimates that the facility will be available for OC16 and independent productions within three months.

Producers of the individual shows, some of whom purchase air time and some of whom are supported by the station, typically agree to black out a few minutes per show for OC16 advertising and sell the remaining ad time themselves.

Another quirk of OC 16 programming is that the programs may use product placement as part of the content, though this arrangement with sponsors isn't considered advertising by Oceanic Time Warner. With "Da Braddahs and Friends," for one, plot points of an episode may revolve around installing new kitchen appliances, for example, with the backing company's name working its way repeatedly into the dialogue.

An OC16 Sampler

"Hawaiian Classics": Classic Hawaiian songs and the times from which they sprang.

"Ninja EX": Campy humor and first-rate butt-kicking from some of the Islands' top martial artists.

"Da Braddahs and Friends": You laugh ... but that's the point, eh?

"Hawaii Goes Fishing": The old reliable keeps reeling 'em in.

"Dis-N-Dat": Kutmaster Spaz's feel-good mix of teen profiles, comedy, serious talk and, you know, dis and dat.

While the the station's audience share is relatively low, the frequency of airings means advertisers can get a lot of airtime for a minimal investment. Some OC16 programs are repeated 20 or 25 times a week.

When KCCN disc jockey Davey D started his local music video show, "Overdrive Live," three years ago, he shared airtime with only "Tiny TV," "Da Braddahs and Friends," and "Local Kine Grindz" — "and we were on, like, 800 times a week," he said, laughing.

"With all these other shows now, there's less frequency but more people are aware that we're here," he said. "That's made it easier to sell ads. Before it was, 'OC-what?' Now I'll talk to people and they'll say, 'Oh yeah, I've seen your show.' "

Davey D said he can recall at least three previous local shows with a similar premise, but all fizzled after a short time.

"The only reason we have staying power is because OC16 supports us," he said. "They believe in the product and they've helped us get our message across. I feel blessed that they've continued with that mission of featuring all-local stuff."

As the production quality of the individual shows continues to improve, Killion said OC16 is slowly dispelling its image as a repository for low-budget cable-access-style programming. And that, thankfully, has meant less living-room comedians calling up and asking the station to build a show around them.

"There's an awareness of quality now that keeps the crazy ones from calling," she said.

Still, many of OC16's programs are put together by first-time producers with good ideas but limited experience and expertise. The task of helping these newbies get up to speed often falls to creative director Jon Brekke. With more than 20 years of television production experience, Brekke regularly consults with young producers and offers his suggestions for everything from how to maximize the amount of useable footage a cameraman gets to how to engage viewers with compelling storytelling.

"When I think back to how hard and how expensive it used to be to put together a show, I don't think some producers nowadays really realize how lucky they are," said Brekke, who has produced independent specials for various local network affiliates and is one of the driving forces behind "Hawaiian Classics." "We used to pay $5,000 for a half hour of airtime and maybe 10 (commercial) spots (on network TV). Here, we'll air their shows over and over and they get 100 spots a month for a lot less."

Making the most of it

One first-time producer who made the most of his opportunities and direction is Kyle Nakamoto, creator of "Hawaii Skin Diver."

An accomplished diver and cameraman, Nakamoto had a wealth of great underwater footage but not the production experience to know how to make it meaningful and compelling to viewers, Brekke said.

"He had some of the best footage I've ever seen in Hawai'i, but he's a first-time producer and he didn't really know how to make a TV show," Brekke said. "I told him he just needed more logic in how his stories were told. He needed to share what was going on in (the diver's) mind, what was happening and why it was important."

Brekke said the improvement between the first episode last June and the shows Nakamoto is turning out now is dramatic.

"It's a challenge to provide unusual footage and to think about each show creatively, " Nakamoto said. "I don't want to just show nice footage, I want to make it special and unique."

Nakamoto, who gathers much of his undersea footage during extended tours of the Pacific, said he typically spends 80 or more hours preparing each episode. With the support of a small core of loyal advertisers, Nakamoto says he's been able to operate in the black.

Like Nakamoto, Don Brown has found OC16 to be an effective outlet for addressing a unique local community. A former programmer and marketing director for The Art House at Restaurant Row, Brown has used his knowledge of Hawai'i's independent film industry to develop "Hawaii's Reel Stories."

The show, which highlights local film productions around the state, has build a steady and enthusiastic audience despite several time changes — a regular pitfall for OC16 shows.

While producers are given plenty of creative freedom, OC16 staffers do regularly monitor shows and advertisements to make sure they're in keeping with the station's family-friendly policies. For example, the popular surf show "Board Stories" stopped accepting advertisements from Steinlager to conform to the station's no-alcohol ads policy.

Still, that was a concession Mike Latronic, the show's producer, didn't mind making.

Latronic calls "Board Stories," which has existed in various forms for years, a "love project" that still manages to make money. He estimates that he and his staff produce about 20 shows a year at a cost of about $60,000. As with other producers, provisions in Latronic's contract with OC16 allow him to retain the rights to his show after a designated number of broadcasts. Last year, he compiled a series of instructional pieces from his show into a DVD package, "Board Stories 101," one of the best selling surf DVDs of last summer.

The Waialua High School grad and former pro surfer said he sees his relationship with OC16, viewers and advertisers as synergistic, something he and other surfers call "the perpetuation of the stoke."

"This is not Martin Scorcese," Latronic said of his show. "Tom Hanks is not going to call me up to write any scripts. It's no miracle, but it does speak a common language with people who love to surf and love the ocean and the environment.

"If OC16 wasn't around, it would be a sad day for all of Hawai'i," Latronic said. "I could drive in to town, put on an aloha shirt and try to sell the show to the networks, but I don't know what that environment is like anymore. I have a home at OC16. My toothbrush is in the cabinet. I'm cozy where I am."

Reach Michael Tsai at mtsai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2461.