Tim Busch is chairman of the CBS affiliates group in addition to co-COO of Nexstar Broadcasting Group. And while there are always strains in network-affiliate relations, Busch remains positive. He downplays any conflict and instead stresses areas of cooperation — most notably online media — that could yield new businesses and new revenue for all.
Tim Busch is an upbeat, positive guy. The attitude may come naturally or perhaps derives from 25 years of selling broadcast time and running TV stations where negativity just won’t do.
Busch’s day job is co-COO of Nexstar Broadcasting Group, helping CEO Perry Sook manage a sprawling and growing collection of 63 TV stations in 43 small and medium-size markets. Instead of being at corporate headquarters in Irving, Texas, however, he continues to work out of his office at WROC, Nexstar’s CBS affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., which he joined as general manager in 2000.
But in this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Busch is speaking in his other role as current chairman of the CBS affiliates group. There are always strains in network-affiliate relations, but Busch is always positive. He downplays any conflict and instead stresses areas of cooperation — most notably online media — that could yield new businesses and new revenue for all.
The edited transcript:
How would you characterize your relationship with the network these days?
Our relationship with the network is good and getting better with this new board as we are finding more ways to collaborate, to work together with our mutual assets for the benefit of both organizations. It’s not like the relationship with any of the prior CBS boards were not good. I’m just saying we continue to evolve and we continue to grow.
I know that you just formed an interactive committee headed by Charlie Peterson of Gray Television. What is it trying to accomplish?
Quincy Smith, who heads up all of CBS’s interactive properties, and I have gotten to know each other over the past couple of years. Under the guidance of [CBS CEO] Leslie [Moonves], he has built, purchased, acquired and designed all sorts of new assets in the interactive field — MaxPreps, C-Net, MoneyWatch, sports. With any one of these properties, there’s an opportunity to align with local affiliates or provide content to local affiliates. The affiliates also might be able to work with the network in building or modeling something brand new. Imagine the press release: “CBS partners with their local affiliates to introduce new properties into individual markets.”
What about other areas of cooperation? News? Sports? Promotion?
We’re working with [CBS News President] Sean McManus right now. There are ways that we can enhance the Early Show and Katie with additional promotion. Our goal is to provide as much support as we can for the growth of those shows. I’d like to see us get more of their talent into the field, into individual markets, so they can interact with our viewers. It’s extremely important.
Give me a for instance, how something like that might work.
I’m bringing [CBS News’] Bob Schieffer up to Rochester. He’ll be giving the commencement address to the Rochester Institute of Technology, RIT, and they’ll have 10,000 people there. They’re also going to broadcast it to their other campuses in the country. I’ve got a general meeting and book signing with Bob beforehand and he will come on our air. He and CBS will get a lot of exposure in a community with a million people. The more we can do of that, the better off we are.
We had a guest column last week by a news marketer who suggested that there should be a seamless transition between the end of the 10 o’clock show and the beginning of the local news. Would you like to see that at CBS?
It is on the plate. We’ve had a discussion with the network about that and I know the network is not in complete agreement with us. They believe that it may not be as important to have a seamless transition or less clutter going into the late news as we do. We also believe it would help to just have less general clutter in that last quarter hour. NBC is doing it right now. It will be a good test.
Here’s the way I look at it: CBS is the No. 1 network — CSI: New York, CSI: Miami, Numbers, The Mentalist, The Good Wife. Those are good scripted programs that are designed, written and slotted for 10 o’clock. We want to capture as much of that viewership as we can.
One of the big issues in Washington is the market-mod proposal that may be embedded in the SHVERA renewal legislation. I know the affiliates have been active on that front. Do you think you’ve that under control?
No. I don’t think it’s ever going to be completely under control. It’s extremely important that we express this to the decision makers on the Hill and also at the FCC — that losing those local market exclusivities or having imported signals coming into our local market is not going to benefit anyone. It does not do any good to the viewers or to our business model.
What else is on your Washington agenda?
Our most immediate goal is to meet with the new commissioners. We are aligning dates right now. We certainly would like to meet with the chairman, but at this point in time he is probably not going to be able to. We will probably meet with his staff.
When you sit down with them, what will you tell them?
Retransmission consent is certainly very important. We don’t want the FCC or the Hill to get involved and potentially gut broadcasters’ retransmission rights. That would not be appropriate. I believe that the American Cable Association has put in some strong lobbying about how small cable operators are at a disadvantage in terms of retransmission consent
It would be wise for us to discuss the current business in general: the ad environment that we’re in, the competitive field we’re in. A lot of this has evolved over the years. You’ve got some very bright people at the FCC who need to hear from the affiliates about all the competitive factors and what they are doing to try to survive.
Do you think CBS should indemnify you from network programming that the FCC finds to be indecent?
Yes I do. There’s always been a discussion on that.
Are you making any headway?
I think we always make headway with [CBS’s] Marty Franks. I think that he is always open to listening and giving feedback. I look forward to continued discussions on that.
NBC approached its affiliates with the idea of it negotiating retransmission consent deal for the affiliates and then splitting the proceeds with the affiliates. Do you think that would make sense for CBS?
Well, retrans is not a board decision. As you know, that would lie with the individual stations or groups in their contractual negotiations with the network.
That said, as I understand what’s being offered by NBC, the network would unify and negotiate retransmission rights on behalf of whatever affiliates opt to come along with the network. It is not a bad idea, but let me qualify.
This is my opinion. This is certainly not the opinion of the board. Going forward, it certainly would make some sense if we were to collaborate with the network and present a unified front on retrans. If we could get anything accretive to our existing contracts and find a way to split that, that would be probably a very good option and both parties would end up being a winner.
In his speech at the TVB Forecast Conference last week, your boss, Perry Sook, indicated that CBS does want to collaborate with its affiliates, but, rather, simply wants a cut for whatever retrans money the affiliates collect. Is that your impression, too, that they want something for nothing?
Look, I respect any business person’s request. That’s how you sit down at the table and negotiate. What I’m envisioning as the end result is for both parties to benefit on something accretive. Both entities are bringing a lot to the table. You have a local affiliate and you have a network and both are doing a very good job at providing services to each other. That’s the quid pro quo.
Your counterpart at Fox, John Tupper, tells me that broadcasters, if they’re going to make it in this world, are going to have to get a lot more than 20 or 25 cents per sub per month from retrans. Do you agree? Do you believe that stations need to get a dollar or two from retrans?
I don’t want to comment on that because those contractual negotiations that we have as a company are proprietary and confidential.
NBCU CEO Jeff Zucker vowed to his affiliates that the network was not interested in bypassing its affiliates. Do you get similar assurances from Les Mooves?
I was at that NBC affiliates meeting when Zucker spoke and it was good to hear him say that to the audience. I applaud Leslie. One of the first comments out of his mouth to the affiliates groups when we met back in May was that the affiliate-network model is not broken and that is a discussion that he and I have had one-on-one as well. The board sincerely appreciates him being very public, very vocal about that, that this model works and that it will continue to work.
I’m always amazed that the affiliates aren’t screaming more about the loss of exclusivity to primetime programming. You can now watch primetime shows on Hulu and the networks’ individual sites. How come that you guys are rolling over on that?
Nobody’s rolled over. I mean there are certain exclusivity provisions that we have in our agreements which I believe rides in the NFL agreement if I’m not mistaken. So there are some restrictions on what they can do. We’ve got a good partner with the network. The network is not trying to figure out a way to carve the affiliates out. They are trying to figure out a way — and this comes directly from Leslie and his team — to expose product to a larger field of potential viewers that brings them back on a consistent basis to the mother ship. I believe it. I believe they have empirical evidence to prove that. And that’s where Quincy Smith wants to go as well as part of this interactive team. Who am I to say that continued experimentation will not ultimately help the affiliates?