Eye affils concerned with ‘Early’ struggles

What's to be done with relaunched ayemcast?

LAS VEGAS — The most talked about man at the CBS affil confab isn’t even here.

While station execs seem generally upbeat about the status of their relationship with the Eye web, the one major sore point continues to be Bryant Gumbel and his still-struggling “Early Show.” Specifically, affils want to know what CBS plans to do to beef up ratings for the recently relaunched ayemcast, which has been slow to draw an aud.

CBS News prexy Andrew Heyward today will announce some initiatives to bolster the breakfast show, and Eye topper Leslie Moonves tried to diffuse any potential tension by acknowledging there’s a problem.

“I know it’s on the minds of everyone in this room. As you can imagine, it’s on my mind, too,” he said. “We know we have to be competitive, and we will be.”

Blunt assessment

Some affils were more blunt in their assessment of “The Early Show’s” early perf.

“There’s great concern. There’s no denying the fact that the show doesn’t work,” said Freedom Broadcasting topper Alan Bell, whose company owns several Eye outlets. “They know it and we know it.”

At the same time, Bell was optimistic that CBS News execs will be able to turn things around. “It can be fixed, and it will be fixed,” he said.

Encouraging words

During his formal address to affils Wednesday, Moonves also said the Eye’s new Viacom parentage can only help its relationship with affils.

With the Paramount and CBS-owned stations now under one fold, CBS is now “the largest local broadcaster” in the U.S. “What works for us also works for you.”

And despite the Eye’s new Viacom-owned cable and Internet siblings, Moonves said CBS remains at heart a free-TV company.

“Our first and foremost interest is over-the-air broadcasting,” he said.

Another issue expected to raise the heat here today is how affils plan to use their FCC-assigned digital spectrum. Many are already forming alliances to sell the space to a consortium that wants to use the space for datacasting of supplementary info and advertising. CBS has other ideas for the space, and it will use this week’s confab to convince affils to wait before committing to outside plans.

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