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Synergy sings sweetly at CBS

A mix of Viacom synergy and musical specials is producing happy melodies for CBS. The network has centered much of its November sweeps schedule on musical events, and Michael Jackson's 30th anniversary special last week drew record ratings.

The special also shined a spotlight on CBS's relatively new strategy: With help from co-owned Viacom entities like VH-1, MTV, CMT and the Infinity radio stations, CBS is drawing younger viewers and shoring up its weaker time slots.

During November alone, CBS is airing Jackson's concert, the Country Music Association Awards, three separate Garth Brooks concerts and a Thanksgiving-weekend 'NSync special. Last month, the network announced a new deal to keep The Grammy Awards for the next five years, a pact that also gives it the option to broadcast The Latin Grammys each year as well. The network has even turned a child-adoption special into a musically themed event: The annual Home for the Holidays
special next month will be hosted by Mariah Carey and feature such acts as Destiny's Child.

"We don't do this to chase the flavor of the month. This is the kind of business we like to be in all year," says Senior Vice President of Specials Jack Sussman.

It was Sussman, a programming executive at both MTV and VH-1 prior to joining CBS in 1998, who got CBS back into the music business and got synergies going between VH-1 and MTV even before Viacom and CBS had merged. Sussman used his musical connections to get Celine Dion for a November sweeps concert in 1998 and got VH-1 to help promote it.

"We gave VH-1 behind-the-scenes stuff, they created interstitial programming, and they even had an exclusive interview with Celine," says Sussman.

Since Dion drew record ratings in 1998, CBS has aired concert specials with Shania Twain, Ricky Martin and a host of other musical acts. VH-1, MTV, CMT and the 180-plus Infinity radio stations have played a big part in many of them.

For example, MTV produced CBS Sports' Super Bowl halftime concert last year, featuring Aerosmith and Britney Spears, and MTV VJ Carson Daly hosted a pre-Super Bowl concert with Ricky Martin the night before. VH-1 hosts the preshow for the Grammys each year; CMT hosted a preshow for CBS's coverage of the CMAs earlier this month. VH-1 aired numerous Michael Jackson-themed programs this month leading up to his concert on CBS, and the Infinity stations carried plenty of ads for it—as they do for the Grammys and other CBS events.

Says Fred Graber, VH-1 executive vice president of programming and production, "Every time CBS goes to an artist, one of the first things they say is what's VH-1 going to do for me, what's MTV going to do for me? That becomes a part of the deal for CBS, and it gives CBS a leg up on NBC, ABC or anybody else."

This week, CBS will use the synergy combo for another headline-grabbing night, with the broadcast premiere of The Rugrats Movie
(which Nickelodeon produced) and a special one-hour 'NSync concert, co-produced and promoted with MTV. CBS programmers are calling it Toons and Tunes.

While NBC and Fox fight it out for first place among the key adults 18-49 demo during the sweeps, CBS is leading in both total viewers and households and isn't too far back in adults 18-49—no small thanks to the music specials. Jackson's concert last Tuesday delivered more than 25 million viewers and strong demographic ratings, including an 8.9 rating/23 share in the key demo. Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Special
was the network's highest-rated music special since the advent of Nielsen Media Research's Peoplemeters.

The CMAs attracted more than 18 million viewers, and, when network programmers realized that new drama Wolf Lake
wasn't cutting it at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, they turned to Sussman. He quickly cut a deal with Garth Brooks for three sweeps concerts. Airing last week, the first one raised the time-period averages by nearly 2 million viewers and more than 25% in all key demos.