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NAB: Fager Pitches News Fixes to CBS Affiliates Board

Complete NAB 2011 Coverage

CBS News chief Jeff Fager, the network's affiliate relations president Diana Wilkin, and NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith were among those who addressed the CBS affiliates board at their meeting in Las Vegas April 11. The crisp two hour meeting was chaired by Kirk Black, general manager at WGCL Atlanta; CBS affiliates board chairman Wayne Daugherty was unable to attend due to illness.

Fager addressed the affiliate heads with some strategy for lifting ratings at both The Early Show and CBS Evening News; Black says Fager reminded him of a station news director, with his hands on approach to invigorating the network's newscasts. Fager did not dwell on evening anchor Katie Couric's unclear future, and what it means for CBS. "We're all excited about his track record with 60 Minutes," says Black, who did not offer specifics of Fager's strategy. "He seemed very engaged and passionate. There was a lot of tactical discussions-you don't always get that in that job."

The recently concluded March Madness tourney, which for the first time saw CBS split the coverage with Turner's cable networks, also took up a chunk of the meeting. Some affiliates had groused during the NCAA tournament's opening round that they could not air their local teams. Affiliates represented in the Vegas meeting had a mixed reaction to the new setup, said Black. "It depends on who you are and where your station is and the draw your local team got," he says. "But it's as fair as it can be, based on the setup they've got."

Black says the gameplan is to study this year's results with the tournament, and figure out how best to monetize it for next year.

CBS did not share a peek at its development slate, as ABC did with its affiliates board the day before.

Gordon Smith offered his "State of the State," as Black put it, for about 25 minutes-a precursor to Smith's general address the following morning on issues such as retrans and spectrum. Black called him a "great advocate" for broadcasting-and for the CBS affiliates.  

The topic of reverse compensation came up in the meeting, but was not a major issue, as it may be at other affiliates board meetings in Vegas these days. "Everyone understands the new economic metrics," says Black. "The talks between us and the network were not nearly as contentious as some of the others."

Addressing a general assembly at NAB Tuesday morning, CBS President/CEO Leslie Moonves credited the network's 220 affiliates for their strength in the partnership, and said they were expected to help foot the bill for CBS' leading programs. "Programs are very expensive and we need help. The affiliates acknowledge that," Moonves said. "There's no threat, no, ‘gee, this is going to happen,' no signals being pulled off by us...A strong affiliate body is very important to us."

Black stressed the strength of the partnership as well,  with areas such as news to be addressed, but the affiliates he represents tickled with their booming primetime. "It was very productive," he says. "There's not a lot to complain about as we work together with CBS."