A filial affil confab

Dereg divides stations at friendly CBS meet

LAS VEGAS — With the FCC expected to further deregulate the TV business next week — much to the dismay of many smaller station owners — CBS affils stressed their contribution to the Eye’s ratings routs.

In Sin City for their 49th annual affiliates meeting, station execs were upbeat over CBS’ end-of-season total viewers triumph and celebrated the Eye’s success while attending the Strip musical “Mamma Mia.”

“It’s about the programming,” said Cox Television prexy Andy Fisher. “And the programming’s great.”

But the impending FCC rule changes loomed over the confab, as reps from large station groups, the remaining few smaller chains and CBS-owned outlets — all of whom have different takes on the issue — sat side-by-side throughout the day.

Power of non-owned affils

Bob Lee, chairman of the CBS Affiliates Advisory Board and prexy-general manager at WDBJ Roanoke, Va., reminded the net that its non-owned affils bring in more than their fair share of the Eye’s ratings points.

For example, the net’s 171 pure affils cover 64% of the nation’s households yet constitute 79% of the homes watching the net’s “Early Show” and 78% of homes tuning into the “CBS Evening News.”

That’s partly because CBS culls much of its strength from medium- and small-sized outlets, while its major-market owned-and-operated stations have struggled in recent times. Lee said he wasn’t knocking the O&Os but simply pointing out that the non-CBS-owned stations delivered three-quarters of the eyeballs that led to the Eye’s recent $2 billion upfront intake.

‘Open partnership’

Speaking to the affiliate body, CBS chairman-CEO Leslie Moonves said the net was looking forward to getting past the FCC’s Monday deadline “so we can move on to a friendly, open partnership with all of you.”

“We are a family,” Moonves said. “Like all families, we may disagree on issues. Some small, some not so small. But at the end of the day, we want to be together with you.”

Meanwhile, CBS execs were mum over their bid for the 2010 Winter and 2012 Summer Olympic Games. All four major webs will pitch the Intl. Olympic Committee next week for a crack at carrying the Games.

Game for spreading costs?

Eye reps also wouldn’t comment on talk that affils may be asked to help cover the cost of the Games should the net win over the IOC. Reports have put the two Games’ pricetag at around $2 billion.

Lee said CBS hadn’t broached the issue with the stations and didn’t expect it to be an issue.

Lee said station groups were concerned over the possibility of similar ideas at the other nets. If all four nets are expecting their affils to chip in, then in effect the station groups would be “contributing to an arms race” and inadvertently driving up the price for the IOC, he said.

‘Early’ remake

Then there’s the evergreen issue of net’s breakfastcast “The Early Show,” which relaunched in October with anchors Hannah Storm, Harry Smith, Julie Chen and Rene Syler.

“We know how important the early morning time period is to you,” Moonves said. “I believe we have greatly improved ‘The Early Show’ since it changed format. And I’m very encouraged with the performance and direction of the broadcast.”

Meanwhile, affiliate execs applauded CBS’ new sked, which was laid out by Moonves and CBS Entertainment prexy Nancy Tellem. Station execs reacted particularly strongly to newcomers “Two and a Half Men” and “Joan of Arcadia.”

“I have huge admiration for what Les and his team have accomplished,” said Freedom Communications CEO Alan Bell, whose company owns a handful of Eye affils. “It’s a great schedule. Speaking as someone who has other network affiliates, I wish I could say the same of everyone.”

Affil confabs like this week’s CBS affair have become an endangered species. Moonves told affils that this year marks the third in a row that the Eye has been the only net to hold a affil meeting of this size.

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