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Hearst-Argyle Goes Back to School

In an effort to tap into the lucrative teen market, Hearst-Argyle Television launched the Web platform “High School Playbook” today. Playbook employs a social-networking model to help users share video, news and views about all things high school, be it sports teams, cheerleaders or marching bands.

“We’re targeting three demographics,” says Hearst-Argyle Executive VP Terry Mackin, “teens, the parents of teens, and the [local] adult community that’s interested in high school sports.”

A blend of MySpace, Facebook and ESPN, Playbook launches on Hearst affiliates in seven markets: Orlando, Sacramento, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., and Greensboro-Winston-Salem, N.C. Mackin is shooting for 25 markets by January 2008, and 50 in a year’s time; the plan is to license the service to Hearst and non-Hearst stations alike.

Playbook offers schedules, scores, statistics and weather, and brings 10 different sports to three screens: local TV, broadband and mobile devices. Besides user-generated video and footage shot from pros, Hearst is training students to be “one-man bands,” according to Mackin, and shoot irreverent HD video from the sidelines. Sixty such students are already in place. Both local and national advertising, primarily from the apparel and telecom sectors, will supply revenue.

The launch comes at a time when media companies are bullish on high school sports. Sports Illustrated increased its stake in school sports/social networking site earlier this summer, and CBS Corp. bought The Fox-owned stations are tweaking their own high school sports/social networking platform, with a working title FoxHilites, to be launched this fall. And schoolboy gridiron drama Friday Night Lights, meanwhile, is entering its sophomore year on NBC.

Mackin termed the project a “seven-figure investment, minimally,” that took about a year to create.

Three Hearst-Argyle stations, KCRA Sacramento, WTAE Pittsburgh, and WBAL Baltimore, will provide High School Playbook features within their existing local YouTube channels.

Hearst-Argyle owns 26 stations nationwide.