Editorial: CBS has a MELtdown over upfront

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

CBS has a credibility problem. The company has adamantly insisted it did not take cost-per-thousand decreases-compared with last year’s upfront CPMs-when negotiating its prime-time upfront deals in the past few weeks.
However, media buyers and CBS insiders contacted by Electronic Media say this simply isn’t so. Our competitors have found likewise. Respected journalist-and competitor-Joe Mandese, who has been covering upfronts for well over a decade, wrote, “But with the exception of one, every major ad agency” he contacted “said it paid less for CBS’s prime-time ad time this year than last year.”
Year in and year out, it is not our experience that buyers and insiders lie en masse when discussing such fundamentals about the upfront. So what’s going on?
It appears that our friends at CBS are singing a melodramatic melody. In truth, their hearts are heavy with mellifluous melancholy.
That’s right, you guessed it: Too much Mel. Mel Karmazin, president and chief operating officer of CBS parent Viacom, promised Wall Street that CBS would have a bullish upfront.
The problem is he really believed it; the marketplace-and the truth, as it turns out-be damned. Don’t get us wrong. We like Mel. He’s got a keen business acumen, he’s lively and he’s colorful.
But he has done a grave disservice, mostly inside CBS, to some magnificent people. Chief salesman Joe Abruzzese, his top lieutenant Jo Ann Ross and the rest of the CBS sales team are among the most respected in the business. They aren’t wimps, they aren’t schmucks, and they aren’t lazy.
They’re hard-working professionals who understand both relationships and negotiations in a business where both are key. And they deserve to be listened to and appreciated by Mr. Karmazin.
The late Edward R. Murrow-the conscience of a CBS that may not exist anymore-speaking in another time and of another fear, said it far more articulately than we can: “The terror is right here in this room … We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men …”