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Putting CBS, UPN affils on same page

May 6, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Peter Schruth, who has been president of affiliate relations for CBS Television since early 1999, assumed control over UPN affiliate relations early this year when UPN came under the purview of CBS President Leslie Moonves.
Mr. Schruth recently sat down with Electronic Media to talk about his unprecedented job, how some of the procedural changes manifest themselves on a day-to-day basis and the short- and long-term outlooks and implications.
He also talked about some of the questions raised by the major affiliate switch in Jacksonville, Fla., where after two years of stalemated negotiations with CBS, Post-Newsweek Stations will end its long affiliation with the network and take WJXT-TV independent this summer. CBS turned to Clear Channel Communications, whose Jacksonville media cluster includes a TV duopoly, and struck a deal that will make WTEV-TV the CBS affiliate, effective July 15, and move UPN programming into late-night on sister station WAWS-TV, the Fox affiliate. It was part of a broader agreement that resulted in Clear Channel and CBS signing long-term affiliate agreements in seven other cities besides Jacksonville.
EM: At what point are you in the combination, the reorganization, the restructuring? Is it done?
Mr. Schruth: About 90 percent done, as far as the actual structure goes. As far as the re-education of our organization in terms of the peculiarities and the uniqueness of how we distribute UPN, we’re probably halfway there in my organization.
EM: These are two different animals.
Mr. Schruth: It’s actually unique to smaller emerging networks. It’s not unique to UPN. Even though they’re not exactly the same, we have a lot of the same challenges, as probably Warner Bros. has. We don’t have as many challenges as Pax has. We probably have more challenges than Fox has. It’s just in terms of the way we distribute the network. … I think [UPN] did very well in establishing themselves in how they’re distributed, and now we’re trying to take them to the next level.
EM: Do things trip easily off the tongue yet about where there are low-power stations, where UPN is fighting to get on a cable system, that sort of thing? Or is that something you ever have to do? Will there always be somebody whose role it is to know these things?
Mr. Schruth: In terms of rolling off my tongue, I have to get briefed in most of the smaller markets. If you ask me where we are in the top 45 markets, I have a very good idea of who owns them, what our challenges are, how long our deals run, what we’d like to accomplish with them. As far as a lot of the smaller markets, we do have a lot of people who, because they’re calling on those regions, are extremely familiar with what’s going on.
EM: And on paper, how different does the merged department look, as far as size or deployment or reporting structure?
Mr. Schruth: We ended up adding two individuals from the UPN affiliate relations organization, and they play a key role in the structure. One is Sandy Pastoor, a very capable, very neat lady who was the No. 2 person at UPN affiliate relations, who is now working with us here in New York. Her job is mostly to do market development, to monitor and upgrade our affiliate strength in the markets where that’s needed, and she is the informal adviser and educator and teacher for all of our regional people who are calling on various markets.
As far as your structure question goes, we have eight regional directors who each call on approximately 25 markets, and for each of those markets they are responsible for distributing and managing the relationship with both CBS affiliates and UPN affiliates.
We also brought over one other person from UPN, [affiliate relations chief] Steve Carlston.
EM: So he is staying?
Mr. Schruth: We’re still working that out, but he has been a tremendous help. Steve’s role is to interface with the larger group owners and to assess our needs on a group basis–and also to help educate me in terms of the broader landscape of what we’re dealing with here.
EM: As your regional folks go through the markets, are CBS affiliates seeing them as much as they’re used to? Are UPN affiliates seeing them as much as they’re used to?
Mr. Schruth: In general, CBS affiliates are seeing them as much as they’re used to. I think only because of the size of our organization, UPN affiliates are seeing a lot more of an affiliate-relations person than they’re used to.
And as far as how we manage our resources, we all agreed that instead of taking an 8 o’clock plane from New York and arriving for a visit and having lunch and traveling [that] afternoon to the next market, what is probably more appropriate to do is to take a plane very early in the morning, make a full market visit with CBS, have lunch with one or the other, spend the afternoon at the other affiliate and then travel in the evening hours to the next market. So that’s working out with a little bit more effort in order to accomplish both goals with, in essence, the same money.
EM: If UPN affiliates are feeling as though they’re not hearing from their network as often as they used to, is this just a natural side effect of the stage that you’re in?
Mr. Schruth: I would tell you that if that were the case, which I doubt, then that would be my and our management’s challenge here at the company. One of the things that we are most excited about is that as an organization we are very capable of processing massive amounts of information and communication to both sets of affiliates. Because of the amount of people we have, we can increase quantifiably the market visits. I would be very surprised to hear in general that the amount of phone contact and consultation and market sales business has not increased dramatically from the previous administration.
Initially, there were a few people who were a little conflicted about having their network representation split between [CBS and UPN]. I’m keeping in very, very close contact with [Lockwood Broadcast Group President Dave Hanna] who runs our affiliate board on the UPN side–he’s a really good guy, and he appears to be pretty much on board with what we’re doing.
EM: Is it like a blended family, where there had been “yours,” “mine” and “ours”? Will there ever be an “ours”? Or does there have to, for professional and regulatory reasons, remain a sort of “yours” and “mine/ours”?
Mr. Shruth: I think `yours’ and `mine/ours’ is the appropriate approach. We consolidated all these operations, not just affiliate relations, really out of financial necessity, but both of the networks have their own unique personality and challenges, and we don’t try to lump them together.
EM: How will you address the fear that CBS’s “mine” trumps UPN’s “yours”?
Mr. Schruth: I never said the “mine” is CBS and the “yours” is UPN. You said that.
EM: That’s their sense, though. You guys are the head of household, using that same sort of metaphor. What do you say when the question comes up?
Mr. Schruth: I would say that probably as a practical response, we’re spending at least half of our time as an organization addressing UPN issues. … We’re very much into … separate but equal, and if anything, we’re putting as much if not more effort and time into the nurturing of the UPN system as we are to CBS’s.
EM: Can you see a day where you might have a tandem, if not parallel group CBS-UPN affiliates convention?
Mr. Schruth: Yeah, I actually thought about doing it. I thought at one point it would be a good idea to have a UPN affiliate meeting either in front of or following our meeting out in Vegas [in late May], but we did a poll a few months ago, and for the amount of affiliates that we would probably expect to get, it was not a very financially feasible concept.
EM: They were still feeling very much an economic pinch?
Mr. Schruth: Well, if you were to generalize about people who own UPN affiliates, they are emerging stations and emerging companies, and the question of any kind of travel expenses or extraordinary expenses is an issue. So respecting that, we have invited all the general managers a
nd the group owners to the UPN upfront [May 16], and we’re hoping to have some side meetings and knock off some issues, if necessary, at the upfront.
EM: Have you received any specific questions verbalizing fears since the Jacksonville affiliate switch?
Mr. Schruth: Fears about …?
EM: Whether or not CBS’s needs and strategies and goals will trump UPN’s needs, strategies and goals, or for how long?
Mr. Schruth: We didn’t really look at it that way. We had multiple options in Jacksonville. The people we ended up partnering with had the resources and the wherewithal to make us very competitive and strong almost immediately in Jacksonville. That same power and clout that they have is also going to help us be as competitive as we possibly can be with the UPN side.
Our long-term plans for UPN in Jacksonville are not in stone … and incidentally, the UPN programming in Jacksonville is very successful. So we’re thinking as a combination of that and the fact that we’re on a pretty strong Fox affiliate and the fact that they’ve got eight radio stations and 1,000 billboards and three TV properties, you know we like that.
EM: Has it been decided yet whether the UPN programming will run immediately following local news or after syndicated programming?
Mr. Schruth: The initial plan is to have it run in a consecutive block at 11 o’clock on WAWS. However, we are working together with the Clear Channel research and media people in Jacksonville to determine whether that’s ideal. By mutual agreement we are going to come out to the strongest possible combination. There could be other possibilities in terms of the way that programming is going to air, all depending on what we feel mutually gives us the best opportunity to maximize the ratings.
EM: Have you had much chance to look way ahead as far as the UPN picture goes, filling in holes? Will you go to war with cable companies or is that …
Mr. Schruth: Will we go to war with them?
EM: Will you go into battle with them?
Mr. Schruth: I don’t see, generally, the future of business being a battle between commercial broadcasters and cable people. I think it’s gradually going to evolve into a very mutual dependence.
EM: But in so many of these markets, the low-power stations feel like they’re banging their heads …
Mr. Schruth: I think, long-term, the future of any of those stations that we’re on that possibly have a cable issue is probably going to be solved with a combination of two things: effort and attention on our part and horse trading and grass-roots selling on behalf of affiliate relations and the local stations. But equally as important is the success of the network. It’s amazing how well things all of a sudden start to get distributed when you’ve got really hit programming, and I think that we’re on the cusp of that with UPN. So if the network progresses the way it appears to be proceeding, I think the issue of how we are distributed and how we’re cleared is probably going to become less and less problematic.
EM: So you’re hearing and seeing things that say this can and will work for both constituencies?
Mr. Schruth: I would tell you that if you are talking to UPN affiliates, along with the other stuff that you’re hearing, what I’m hearing is that they are extraordinarily excited about the new structure of the network–who’s programming it, in terms of Leslie Moonves. And one of the facts that’s not often noted is that the people who run the divisions of this network. … We’ve been together for a very long time without change. And we work extraordinarily well together. [new UPN Entertainment President] Dawn Ostroff-Tarnofsky is real bright and enthusiastic. She’s a killer. She and Leslie are going to make a great team.
EM: All the networks have done significant numbers of long-term affiliate deals, and you just did the eight-city one with Clear Channel. How do long-term relationships affect your flexibility and options for UPN?
Mr. Schruth: You want long-term deals with people who are going to be really strong partners, and you don’t automatically do long-term. Clear Channel is everything we want in a partner: They’re great broadcasters; they’ve got a lot of resources; they’ve got these media clusters that help us promote. They’re good partners. Fox [which bought UPN stations owned by former UPN partner Chris-Craft Industries] is a good partner. For those people who we perceive to have a tremendous amount of value, yeah, long-term deals–let’s go. As far as others who are emerging stations that are in markets where we might want to upgrade or something like that, they’re on a much shorter leash.
Meaning that if we have a partner in a market who is underfunded, underperforming, [a] low-power entity that does not have the kind of cable distribution that we need in the marketplace, we’re probably not going to turn around and do a 10-year deal with them.
EM: But because there are so many 10-year deals out there, what will your options be?
Mr. Schruth: If our only choice in a marketplace is a struggling, underfunded, low-power entity that is not even fully covered on cable systems, our goal is to get covered on the cable systems, to help them brand themselves, try and get more compelling companion programming on the television station and build it.
EM: Is that like anything you’ve done in recent memory for CBS?
Mr. Schruth: We established [CBS] affiliations in Palm Springs [Calif.] and Beckley, W.Va. We’re in the process of probably establishing new CBS affiliates in two to three more markets, so yes, we’ve done a certain amount of it, but not nearly on the scale we’re looking at here.
EM: You mentioned Fox as being a good partner. Does Fox seem happy?
Mr. Schruth: They seem happy. And I will tell you that they are truly interested in being a long-term affiliate partner to UPN. I don’t think that it was a marriage of convenience. I think they like the idea of building their asset values in all of these markets with a successful UPN that relieves a lot of their programming costs and headaches.
EM: Where do you see UPN and the UPN and CBS relationship being 10 years from now?
Mr. Schruth: I see UPN as being a fuller-service network than it is today. I see us successfully programming other time periods. I see us building tremendous asset value for the affiliates and ourselves, and unless there’s anything I don’t know about it, I see that we are going to jointly operate the two networks successfully.