CBS TV, radio assets improving, will work together

CBS Corp. is one of the few media congloms with a hefty stable of TV and radio stations, so it’s no surprise that topper Leslie Moonves is bullish on the value of local media.

Not only has Moonves been touting a local market ad recovery in recent weeks, but the Eye’s boss aims to make sure that CBS is positioned to capitalize as much as possible on the rebound through the recently launched CBS Local Media division. In doing so, Moonves is hoping to help push the recovery in the ad sector that has been smacked the hardest during the recession, and even before.

“We have a lot of national media content assets,” Moonves told Daily Variety. “But the No. 1 thing that distinguishes CBS, and may have hurt us over the past year, is our local assets.”

Nonetheless, “localism is still a very important business to the CBS Corp.,” he said.

As part of the re-energized focus on TV and radio stations, Anton Guitano was tapped last month to lead the new CBS Local Media arm (Daily Variety, Nov. 11). A veteran of both CBS’ TV and radio station divisions, Guitano has been charged with figuring out ways to improve and streamline the working relationship among the stations in common markets. Guitano’s appointment marks the first time CBS has had an exec serving as a bridge between the TV and radio groups.

“Here was an opportunity to form a group that would make our local assets much stronger and tie in online,” Moonves said.

Moonves also recently named WCBS president-general manager Peter Dunn to take over the TV station group. Dunn and CBS Radio topper Dan Mason will continue to report to Moonves, but now work closely with Guitano in figuring out local initiatives to generate new programming and drive revenue as well as public service initiatives aimed at enhancing the stature of each station in its own backyard.

“We’re trying to take the best of what each division does and improve both,” Guitano said. “We have some great assets in terms of programs — morning shows with talent that we could potentially use on TV and TV talent that could be used on radio.”

Already, the CBS Local Media initiative has resulted in a major morning show shift on the Eye’s Chicago-based WBBM-TV.

The station announced last week that it planned to dump its early news block and replace it with “Monsters and Money in the Morning,” hosted by sports talk duo Mike North and Dan Jiggetts (who formerly hosted a show on CBS Radio’s WSCR-AM).

North and Jiggetts will be joined on the show, which launches Feb. 1, with contributors from CBS Radio outlets, including all-news WBBM-AM.

In New York, WCBS-TV anchors have started appearing on CBS Radio’s all-news WCBS-AM and WINS-AM to discuss stories they’re working on for their telecasts.

“That’s the kind of stuff we should be doing all the time,” Dunn said.

Guitano said more TV and radio partnerships will be in the offing as he, Dunn and Mason start meeting with local management teams in the coming months.

“Dan, Peter and I will go market to market, starting with the top markets, and go through the process of sitting down with their department head and brainstorm,” he said. “It won’t be the same in every market.”

In a memo sent to CBS radio and TV station staffers last week, Dunn, Guitano and Mason said they plan to offer incentives in order to get both sides working closer together.

“We will be looking to recognize and reward radio employees who go the extra mile to help support their colleagues at our TV stations, and vice versa,” they wrote. “We are all focused on recapturing the cooperative effectiveness that may have been more prominent when we were a smaller collection of assets and were able to work more nimbly.”

Before the mid-1990s media deregulation, companies were allowed to own only one FM, one AM and one TV station in any given market. As a result, those co-owned TV and radio stations were usually housed under the same roof and frequently even shared call letters — making collaboration simple.

But once consolidation took root, congloms wound up owning a surplus of radio stations, usually scattered in different locations throughout a market — allowing for separate fiefdoms to emerge.

CBS’ current TV and radio stations, for example, were once separately owned by CBS, Westinghouse, Viacom and Infinity, among others.

“You look back over several years, and radio and TV stations that were co-owned used to really work together,” Mason said. “Somewhere that got lost over the years. We’re looking to recapture that effectiveness when TV and radio worked together. Perhaps a high-profile radio personality will do a TV entertainment segment. Or a popular TV personality will provide weather reports for five or six radio stations.”

“I think you’ll see some of these changes happen rapidly.”

Moonves noted that when he first joined CBS in 1995, the network was a money loser — and the stations repped the Eye’s profit center. (Stations were long the cash cow for every network, until the local advertising marketplace dramatically softened this decade.)

Now, with the reverse true, Moonves said the Eye’s success in primetime and rise in late night will help CBS’ TV stations get some of their mojo back — something that is already happening in some markets.

“It’s nice when both (the network and stations) are both working,” he said. “Stations aren’t all the way back — certain markets are doing well while certain others are behind.”

Eye outlets have also been helped by the competish: “The Jay Leno Show” has taken a bite out of NBC affiliates’ 11 p.m. newscasts. And come 2011, ABC stations in major markets will take a hit when “The Oprah Winfrey Show” — ironically, distributed by CBS — goes away.

“We’re sorry to see her go, she’s a force of nature and certainly a great benefit to the CBS Corp.,” Moonves said. “But it does create opportunities and helps CBS local news.”As for the local advertising outlook, Moonves notes that CBS stations have posted growth every quarter this year, which bodes well for next year.

“We’re looking to a much better 2010 than 2009,” he said. “The local stations, as somebody once said, are probably as good a mark of how the economy is doing as any other business sector.”

For stations, 2010 also reps an election year, which helps stoke demand by limiting advertising shelf space as political ad buyers swarm into the market looking for time-sensitive buys.

“Auto is going in the right direction, that category is coming back, the banking industry is settling down,” Dunn said. “Last year at this time, you were seeing tons of (advertiser) cancellations, more than I had ever seen. Thankfully, that’s over. We’re seeing a lot of good signs.”

Wall Street analysts appear to be giving Moonves the benefit of the doubt. Deutsche Bank analyst Doug Mitchelson recently gave CBS solid marks, while analysts at Piper Jaffray upgraded the corporation from “underweight” to “neutral,” and Morgan Stanley analyst Ben Swinburne said that CBS’ local ad platforms would see growth in 2010.

Caris & Co. analyst David Miller — who still found problems with CBS’ TV and radio businesses — upped his rating on CBS to “below average” from “sell.”

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