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Upfronts 2014: CBS Affiliates on Board With Network, Vice Versa

Some CBS affiliates entered the May 15 meeting with network brass harboring concern about CBS’ commitment to the network-affiliate model, but most left well assured that Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, is sticking with the traditional distribution system.

Moonves’ vows to keep the affiliate model in place nearly elicited a standing ovation, said Chris Cornelius, the outgoing CBS affiliates board chairman.

“The affiliate group body walked away feeling pretty good about his comments regarding his commitment to localism as a driver to success,” said Cornelius.

Add a stable primetime schedule that adds promising new shows and, of course, eight Thursday night NFL games, and it makes for a “pretty damn incredible” lineup, said Cornelius. The NFL package was a “very, very good programming idea,” he said, taking the premium content away from the competition while giving CBS a giant promotional platform. “I guarantee you we will win Thursday nights hands down,” said Cornelius, echoing Joe Namath in the days before Super Bowl III.

Costs of the football package were discussed “at length,” according to one attendee of the meeting at the Museum of Modern Art. Cornelius said CBS’ increasingly year round programming focus and eight-pack of primetime football games don’t come without a cost.

“We have to pay the network and frankly we all expect to do that,” said Cornelius, who did not offer specifics on how affiliates will help foot the bill. “The money does not go to the bottom line. It goes back to program development, and that’s good for everybody.”

CBS has reworked its sports inventory agreement, which also includes NCAA basketball, to add the Thursday night games, and the affiliates board recommended the revamped pact to its members.

Cornelius, director of business development at Morgan Murphy Media, wrapped up his two year chairmanship after the meeting. Michael Fiorile, CEO of Dispatch Printing Company, takes on the CBS affiliates board chairmanship with Todd Schurz, president and CEO of Schurz Communications, as vice chair.

The well respected Fiorile, B&C’s Broadcaster of the Year in 2012, was NBC affiliates board chairman 2008 to 2010.

The meeting also touched on CBS’ TV Everywhere plans, which lag behind its network competitors’. Digital rights matters are being worked out, said Cornelius, but the initiative is moving forward. He did not offer a time frame for the Syncbak-powered product’s release, but said CBS is taking its time to get it right. “It’s a very good product,” he said.

On the news front, the affiliates voiced their support for the ratings challenged CBS This Morning. A joint promotional campaign, said Cornelius, will give the slow-grow show a little more exposure.

Some affiliates had been spooked by media report speculation, noted Cornelius, that CBS could bypass its affiliates by going straight to cable. The Manhattan meeting seemed to assuage that.

“I couldn’t have been happier with Les’s stated commitment to local broadcasters,” said Cornelius. “He pretty much set the record straight.”