NAB 2011

CBS Affils Ponder Their Post-Couric Future

The new head of CBS News tells the CBS Affiliates Board that he’s focused on improving the CBS Morning News and the CBS Evening News. Said WGCL’s Kirk Black: “He’s passionate and seems really motivated, almost like a station guy. He wants to get out there and get things pointed in the right direction.” Other issues on the board’s agenda were the new NCAA March Madness deal and the fate of the locked-out NFL.

Jeff Fager came to visit the CBS Affiliates Board Monday at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. He didn’t bring Katie Couric with him.

The new CBS News president, in his job for just a few weeks, came to introduce himself in his new role to the top affiliates. They already knew him as the executive producer of the 60 Minutes.

Kirk Black, SVP-GM of Meredith’s WGCL Atlanta, said Fager talked to the affiliate board about two big trouble spots for CBS: The CBS Morning News and the CBS Evening News where Couric’s expensive contract will end soon and apparently is unlikely to be renewed.

“We’ve had a concern for a number of years about the early show and its ratings, and more recently about what’s going to happen with Katie and that show,” Black said. Fager didn’t tip his hand much except to acknowledge it’s a time of change at the news division and that he’s committed to improving the network’s position there.

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“With Katie there was once a sense we were going to go in a different direction. It was going to be new and unique. For whatever reason, that didn’t pan out. Right now, we’re anxious to see where they go next.”

Black said Fager seemed ready to tackle those problem spots: “He’s passionate and seems really motivated, almost like a station guy. He wants to get out there and get things pointed in the right direction. The morning show and the evening news — those are not new topics.”


CBS affiliates don’t have the contentious attitude with their network that, for example, Fox affiliates have at the moment, with that network pressing hard to get a much bigger share of affiliates’ retransmission consent money.

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The emergence of the retrains money as a major revenue source, Black said, has changed the relationship between affiliates and the network but, so far, without a major eruption.

Black chaired the meeting in place of Raycom Media’s Wayne Daugherty, the chairman, who is ill.

Beyond talking to Fager, the board spent a lot of time analyzing and discussing the new NCAA March Madness arrangement in which CBS shares the games with Turner Sports. That meant that instead of picking regional contests, affiliates took what they got, and in a few places that hurt.

For example, he said the Meredith station in Kansas City was not too pleased with the way the tournament worked for them. Three teams — the Kansas Jayhawks, Missouri Tigers and Kansas State Wildcats — all made the tournament. But only one game appeared on the CBS schedule where in the past the station could have picked up other games for the market.

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Black reasoned that looking at how stations’ ratings did in the new arrangement is “kind of like averaging. You have to throw out the high and the low and kind of focus on the middle. For a lot of CBS affiliates, it was maybe a neutral. We didn’t know how it was going to go. Now we know and we can go out and sell it.”

Of immediate concern for CBS stations is the fate of the NFL, now in a lockout. The board didn’t discuss it, Black said, but he noted all affiliates are worried about it. “That’s a lot of money for the network, for the stations,” he said. “There’s a lot riding on that.”

Comments (6)

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Karen Zubert says:

April 12, 2011 at 10:37 am

CBS needs to stop demanding that their affiliates carry “The Early Show” in its entirety. Opening the 7am hour to their affiliates for local news programming could be a major advantage against the other national news programs and offer a local alternative to FOX or other stations who program local news during this time.

Paul Gourley says:

April 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

Seriously. Are these affilates really concerned that Katie Couric is leaving. They will never catch up!. Watch Fox News!

Lance Williams says:

April 12, 2011 at 11:23 am

Does he really mean the 4:30 a.m. CBS Morning News or does he mean The Early Show? I can’t imagine spending a lot of time trying to improve a show that’s on before the local morning shows.

M Corte says:

April 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

Part of the Early Show’s problem is the content. They are doing these little home improvement or health stories, while Today and GMA have bigger name celebrities and more substantial news pieces. I also can’t stand the Early Show’s drab blue studio. It seems so dark and depressing in the morning, while Today and GMA have much brighter looking studios with more outdoor segments. Just some little things like that would improve the show. Jeff Glor is the best thing about the new team and he’s sidelined to the news anchor desk. He should have been one of the co-hosts!

kendra campbell says:

April 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

“We’ve had a concern for a number of years about The Early Show and its ratings”. Not that many years – just back to 1954. Let’s see… first there was The Morning Show, followed by Good Morning, CBS Morning News, Morning, CBS This Morning, and The Early Show. Give it time, it’s only been 57 years!

Melinda Santana-Carey says:

April 13, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Formula for success at CBS News: 1) Give the affiliates back the 7-9 slot. Produce national features that stations can use in their own news programming in exchange for a few barter spots; 2) Give stations an alternative to the same old-skewing CBS EVENING NEWS. Sure, call it that, but turn it into a fast-paced, young-skewing format. Times have changed. Get over it. Cronkite is DEAD. Enough already.

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