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CBS Hosts Affiliates at Upfront

May 18, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The CBS affiliates meeting held in New York last week went so well, it’s likely that network and station executives will meet same time, same place next year.
“There’s a very good chance we’ll use the same formula,” Diana Wilkin, president of affiliate relations for the CBS Television Network, said after the daylong get-together, which in recent years had been a more expansive and heavily produced event held at the end of May in Las Vegas.
The change, one of the ripple effects of the 100-day writers strike, allowed the affiliates body for the first time to attend the network’s upfront presentation, held the previous day at Carnegie Hall.
“I saw more than I expected to see,” said Scott Blumenthal, the LIN Television executive VP of television who is chairman of the CBS affiliates association.
The reaction from the affiliates as a whole was that CBS’ prime-time content for 2008-09 is sales-friendly, quality, predominantly scripted shows, especially the 10 o’clock offerings that hold the promise of providing good lead-ins for late local newscasts, especially in the compatible 25-54 demographic.
Wild About Widgets
The local executives were briefed on the CBS Local Ad Network, launched on the network-owned stations in March and scheduled to roll out to affiliates this year, that allows them to syndicate local news “widgets” to blogs and hyper-local sites in their markets.
The widgets, which include a companion banner ad, feature around-the-clock updates of local headlines and images and links that can drive users to the stations’ Web sites.
The affiliates also got updates on:
— The network’s new HD satellite and the $10 million worth of downlink equipment coming to the stations (at no charge).
— Upgraded network-to-affiliate communications equipment coming (again at no charge).
— A box, developed after months of testing and listening to thousands of pieces of audio by CBS engineers, that levels out the volume of all programming, interstitial elements and commercials. The network began using the technology at the beginning of the year.
— While the box will not be free, it is expected to be low-cost, Ms. Wilkin said. Having been general manager of more than one station, Ms. Wilkins knows what it feels like to get calls from viewers annoyed when commercials, for example, suddenly blare at top volume in the middle of lower-volume programming. “There’s no industry standard,” she said. “It is purely a technical conundrum for stations and networks.”
— Upgrades coming soon to the CBS broadband player now in use on 80% to 85% of the CBS-affiliated stations in the country. The player offers advertising avails to be sold by the affiliates, who also get a revenue cut based on usage.
The affiliates also got a preview of the promotional and graphics packages still being created by the network’s marketing department.
Members of the Carnegie Hall audience also got a look at the high-tech style of the graphics package, which includes people moving elements around the screen and tossing the iconic CBS Eye.
In the Q&A session with network executives, there were no really tough topics broached, Ms. Wilkin said. “We have the obvious issues everyone has in the industry,” she said.
As for the ongoing frustration with “The CBS Evening News” and “The Early Show,” both firmly in third place in the ratings, Mr. Blumenthal said, “I just want to hear they have a plan [to improve the performances] and are committed to it.”

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