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Eye family warm & fuzzy — for now

Impending FCC rule changes loomed over confab

LAS VEGAS — Good old-fashioned network affiliate confabs have all but disappeared in the wake of broadcast consolidation and corporate belt-tightening — except at CBS.

Eye execs made sure to point that out to station reps last week, as the network and its affils met at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel for their 49th annual meeting.

CBS affiliate relations prexy Peter Schruth pointed out that CBS is the only net that has thrown a large-scale affils meeting over the last three years.

Schruth even described CBS’ interaction with its affils as ‘the strongest relationship in the broadcast industry today.’

Indeed, with most major issues out of the way — at least for now — CBS and its affils were able to embrace each other without looking behind their back.

That’s a nice change, given the often-tempestuous relationship between both sides.

‘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.’

Nonetheless, CBS and its affils, like all nets and their stations, aren’t necessarily holding hands and slipping each other scented love letters.

With the FCC expected to further deregulate the TV business next week, much to the chagrin of many smaller station owners, CBS and its affils have very different takes on the issues.

The impending FCC rule changes loomed over the confab. For starters, CBS Affiliates Advisory Board chair (and WDBJ, Roanoke, Va., prexy/GM) Bob Lee reminded the net that CBS can’t depend just on its owned-and-operated stations.

‘The network can sell all the time it wants, but it depends on its affiliate stations to deliver,’ Lee said.

Speaking to the affiliate body, CBS chairman/CEO Leslie Moonves said the net was looking forward to getting past the FCC’s June 2 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 tap-danced around the other issue sure to turn CBS and stations against one another: Affiliate contribution to help cover the net’s big sports costs.

Faced with the massive pricetag for its NFL package, Eye and its affils resolved most of those compensation issues a few years ago. That’s led to much happier meetings since then — but the net still reserves the possibility of more affiliate assistance down the road.

‘Time to time we will need the financial assistance of our affiliates,’ CBS Sports prexy Sean McManus told station leaders. ‘We appreciate the support you’ve given us in the past and look forward to your support in the future.’

McManus didn’t say whether that might include playing a role in the Eye’s bid for rights to carry the 2010 Winter and 2012 Summer Olympic Games. But he did say the net would ponder ‘what’s in the best interest for CBS and its affiliates before committing to any bids.’

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.

Still, even in the face of those potentially contentious issues, CBS affils and Eye execs have little to complain about these days.

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

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