Reynolds' rough road
New head of CBS TV Stations faces turnaround task
By Steve McClellan -- Broadcasting & Cable, 4/1/2001 8:00:00 PM
Job one for Fred Reynolds, the newly appointed president of CBS Television Stations: Fix the stations in the top three markets-WCBS-TV New York, KCBS-TV Los Angles and WBBM-TV Chicago. That's according to Reynolds' boss, CBS Television President Leslie Moonves.
In all three cases, the CBS stations in those markets lag far behind the ABC and NBC stations in the ratings. Until recently, their poor ratings performance had been masked by the booming ad market, but, with the ad market depressed, it's more of a struggle to drive revenue growth with bad ratings, pointed out one CBS insider.
It's the second time in recent months that Viacom has picked a chief financial officer to run an operating unit. Reynolds had been CFO of Viacom since it bought CBS last year and, before that, was CFO of both CBS and Westinghouse, which acquired CBS in 1995. In January, Viacom named longtime Infinity Broadcasting CFO Farid Suleman to head the radio/ outdoor-advertising unit as president and chief executive officer.
And among the major network-owned station groups, Reynolds is the second executive without prior station-management experience to be named to head a TV-station division. A year and half ago, NBC tapped Jay Ireland from parent GE's plastics division to run the NBC station group.
Katz Programming Vice President Bill Carroll finds CBS' choice not a complete surprise. Broadcasting generally has become focused on the bottom line in recent years. "Like other industries," he says, "they're turning to a trusted insider to oversee one of their key assets."
Conventional wisdom holds that, when a financial type is brought in as operating head, the mission is more cutting costs than raising ratings. But Moonves insists that is not the case here: "Fred is not a traditional bean counter" and won't act like one while running the CBS group. "He realizes that the way to success and growth is good programming and marketing."
Reynolds replaces John Severino as head of the 35 CBS-owned television stations.
Last week, CBS parent Viacom hired former Time Warner Chief Financial Officer Richard Bressler to succeed Reynolds as CFO at Viacom. Most recently, he was executive vice president of AOL Time Warner and president, AOL Time Warner Investments. He's credited with having helped plot and facilitate the AOL Time Warner merger as well as having helped oversee the integration of the two companies.
Severino's departure had been rumored for weeks. Moonves told BROADCASTING & CABLE that, when Severino was hired two years ago, "he sort of came out of retirement, and it was sort of an agreement that he would work only a couple of years. That was the game plan."
Last month, Reynolds announced that he was leaving the Viacom CFO post to spend more time on the West Coast, where his family resides. Moonves acknowledges that the company "had looked around the landscape" for other potential candidates but "things just sort of fell into place" when Reynolds decided to move West. One candidate that CBS considered was Kevin O'Brien, sources say. O'Brien, the long-time manager of KTVU-TV Oakland, Calif., is leaving Cox at the end the year when his contract is up (see Station Break, page 22).
Although Reynolds' background is purely financial, Moonves says that doesn't matter. "I think experience is overrated. A good executive is a good executive," who can learn on the job. Reynolds' situation is not unlike Jeff Zucker's, whom NBC shifted from Today to head NBC Entertainment, he suggests. He adds that, as CFO of CBS and Viacom, Reynolds has come to know the business side of TV stations well. Moonves credits Reynolds with being the architect of the King World and BET acquisitions as well as recent station acquisitions. And, of course, he was involved in facilitating the CBS acquisition.
Moonves says that beyond fixing the group's three biggest stations, Reynolds-who wasn't available for comment-will expand and execute CBS' duopoly strategy and more fully integrate the station and network operations.
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