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CBS Affils Wary Of Overruns

Feb 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

CBS’s oversized, action-packed plan to counterprogram NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage this month has many CBS affiliates wishing the network weren’t thinking quite so big, because it likely will cost them an important local news advantage.

The CBS strategy will delay late local newscasts by a half-hour on four weekend nights to accommodate 9-11:30 p.m. broadcasts of long, male-appeal theatricals-“Die Another Day” on Saturday; “The Sum of All Fears” on Sunday; “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” on Feb. 19 and “The Bourne Identity” on Feb. 26-because the genre has proven effective in such situations before.

Combined with a half-hour overrun built into the 3½-hour-long Grammy Awards telecast airing 8-11:30 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, five of the affiliates’ 28 late local newscasts will be knocked out of the February sweeps ratings book because they won’t be airing in their usual time slots.

“We love being a CBS affiliate. We also try to be a very good affiliate,” said Dave Busiek, news director at Hearst-Argyle Television-owned KCCI-TV, the dominant news station in Des Moines, Iowa, However, he said, “We’re really not happy about it.

“To me, it’s a huge issue,” said Mr. Busiek, whose late Sunday newscast is particularly strong, scoring a 20 Nielsen Media Research rating in the November 2005 sweeps. That’s a huge number to factor out of the sweeps ratings book, which Nielsen rules allow, but the alternative would be to choose to keep a number that would be depressed simply by the later hour-as well as by head-to-head competition from NBC affiliates’ late local newscasts that will be pushed back by Olympics coverage every night from Feb. 10-26.

Overruns also work against viewing habits the stations have worked hard to inculcate.

“Whenever you teach people to watch somebody else’s news at 11, you teach them that you’re not consistent,” said Susan Adams Lloyd, general manager of Clear Channel’s CBS-Fox duopoly of WTEV-TV and WAWS-TV in Jacksonville, Fla.

Gray Television-owned WTVY-TV dominates the news in Dothan, Ala., where there is no NBC affiliate in the market (though there is some signal spill-in from NBC affiliates elsewhere).

“Our Sunday nights are very dominant,” said WTYV General Manager Pat Dalbey.

Coming off the NFL season, in which football coverage frequently delays Sunday night prime-time and late local news, Mr. Dalbey is admittedly touchy on the subject of overruns.

“I’m grousing about the fact that we’ve got late runs on our Sunday night news, but I grouse about them during football. We seem to have more and more of them when the affiliate body is asking the network for less and less of them,” Mr. Dalbey said. “Anytime a show goes on late, you’re going to have fewer viewers for it. That is our concern.”

“It’s a rock and a hard place. It’s not a fun experience if you’re an ABC or CBS affiliate, and we all try to get through it the best we can,” said Fred Young, senior VP of news for Hearst-Argyle.

“For stations that have weaker news numbers, it probably is a gift. For stations like KCCI that have very strong late news numbers, it hurts,” Mr. Busiek said.

“I am applauding CBS for not completely throwing in the towel,” said Ms. Adams Lloyd. “They’re not rolling over and playing dead.”

“We invested in a batch of high-quality, action-oriented theatricals to help the network and our affiliates program against juggernaut events such as the Olympics,” a CBS spokesman said. “The overruns are a byproduct of that, but these films are proven counterpunchers.”