Karmazin seeks ayem patience from affils

Eye topper tells stations to keep the faith

LAS VEGAS — CBS execs from Mel Karmazin on down preached a mantra of patience to Eye affils Thursday, urging stations to hurry up and wait for improved “Early Show” ratings as well as a final digital spectrum strategy.

Despite early sound and fury from affils concerned about the CBS ayemcast’s slow Nielsen start, a strong show of support for the show from Karmazin and CBS News topper Andrew Heyward seemed to diffuse the issue — or at least give the net another year to make morning progress.

“I have zero patience for anything,” said Karmazin, in his first affil speech since assuming his new position of prexy and chief operating officer of Viacom. “(But) I am totally committed to making (‘The Early Show’) competitive.”

Latest in a line

After reeling off a long list of various CBS morning experiments since the 1950s, Karmazin said that for any broadcast to work, “you really do need to have consistency.” He also pledged to commit “all our resources to making sure” the Bryant Gumbel/Jane Clayson program succeeds.

Earlier in the day, Heyward gave station execs a half-hour pep talk on “The Early Show,” emphasizing that Eye execs believe the program has at least become a creditable alternative to ayemcasts on ABC and NBC. At the same time, he conceded that the creative progress has “not paid off in (higher) ratings.”

Though Gumbel did not put in an appearance at the confab, Heyward said CBS would continue to do more “to exploit his strengths.” He also offered support for Clayson, whose short speech to station managers was preceded by a promo reel showing off the journo in action to the tune of Sixpence None the Richer’s remake of “There She Goes.”

Increased cross-promotion

Heyward offered few specifics as to how CBS plans to beef up “The Early Show,” other than to promise increased cross-promotion with Viacom properties and a few local-market contests involving “Early” contributors.

All of the promises and shows of support seemed to take the steam out of any potential movement to convince CBS to switch back to a two-hour ayem block, offering affils more time for local news. Indeed, the slow progress of “The Early Show” was barely mentioned during the closed-door session between the Eye and affils, sources who attended the meeting said.

As expected, CBS execs spent a good chunk of Thursday morning asking affils to hold off any major decisions about how to use their FCC-allocated digital spectrum — even though many large station groups have already done just that, inking deals with various datacasting companies. Eye didn’t offer any specific business plan for the spectrum, however.

“We do not yet know what our digital spectrum business will be,” said Martin Franks, exec VP of CBS Television and senior VP at Viacom. “Frankly, I am not sure anyone really knows what their digital spectrum business will become just yet.”

Recently tapped CBS Internet Group prexy and CEO Russ Pillar suggested that affils and the net meet at least once a month to discuss spectrum and other new media issues.

While Franks had earlier conceded CBS may have been “late to the dance” on the spectrum issue, Karmazin argued the Eye has “been working for a long time” on digital plans, but that it’s simply too soon to make final business decisions on the issue.

Still, “We believe we know what we’re doing,” Karmazin said, adding that CBS wants affils to “be our partner” rather than a competitor.

Affils seemed willing to take a wait-and-see approach. Even those who’ve already signed spectrum deals, such as Cox TV topper Andrew Fisher, were open-minded.

“There’s sufficient bandwidth for local stations to work with multiple partners,” he said. “I don’t think one company will have all the answers.”

On other matters, Karmazin repeated CBS Television topper Leslie Moonves’ statements from Wednesday, asserting the Eye’s commitment to free TV (Daily Variety, June 1.) He also argued that the CBS/Viacom merger can only help local stations, particularly since CBS has “learned from the mistakes” made in previous media marriages.

“We’re not going to do things that are stupid,” he said.

While standalone affil meetings have been going the way of black-and- white TV, Karmazin announced Thursday that CBS will once again hold a separate affil confab next year.

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