CTD Chief Looks Ahead, While ‘Protecting the House’

CBS’ Franklin sees ‘vast opportunity’ in a daytime TV business that is steadily becoming more risk-averse

Why This Matters

WHY THIS MATTERS
New management at syndication leader CBS Television Distribution could signal fresh approaches to the marketplace.

After spending 28 years at Twentieth Television and retiring with a buyout as executive VP and general sales manager, Paul Franklin was hired last summer as president of CBS Television Distribution, which handles more top-10 first-run programs than any other studio.

Franklin’s arrival ushered in a new team and a new era at CTD. Just after the hiring was announced, Steven A. LoCascio was promoted to CTD’s COO, with Stephen Hackett promoted to president of sales, replacing veteran Joe DiSalvo.

Franklin also just filled two posts vacated by retiring longtime CTD executives Mike Mischler and John Wentworth: Mary Beth McAdaragh succeeds Mischler as executive VP of marketing while Scott Grogin, formerly senior VP of Fox Networks Group, becomes executive VP of communications.

Franklin spoke to B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak about the events that led to his new post, the company’s immediate goals and how he sees the market going forward. An edited transcript follows.

You took the buyout at Twentieth Television and were expected to retire, but not too long after that you popped up as the new president of CBS Television Distribution. How did that come about?
To have the opportunity to work for Leslie Moonves and to have the chance to run CTD and play a role in these iconic television shows that have been around for 20 to 30 years was too attractive to decline. I had a tremendous run at Fox and I have nothing but the utmost respect for everyone there. But at the end of the day, this was such an amazing opportunity for me that there was no way to say no to it.

You’ve been there for about six months now. What are your immediate goals for the company?
The mandate, priority No. 1, is to protect the house. Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, Hot Bench, Rachael Ray, Entertainment Tonight, The Doctors, Inside Edition and The Insider are all really good, strong first-run TV shows. We need to manage and grow those shows as much as we can and keep them around for a long time.

At the same time, we also need to build towards the future. It’s been challenging to develop and create hits in this business but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. There are tremendous productions and producers out there. The question is always how do we bring more revenue into the division.

It starts with the idea, the concept, the talent and, of course, the economic model. We need to revisit how we develop these shows as well as their cost structures. It’s one thing to take a risk, it’s another thing to take a huge risk that could be a drain on the company. So we are revisiting such factors as how much these shows cost, how we are marketing them and who we are reaching with them. We are going to keep kicking the tires until we find something that we all agree could work.

When you look out at the syndication/daytime TV landscape, what do you think are the areas of opportunity?
I think all of these genres can still be supported. I think everybody is always looking for the next great news lead-in. We’ve got Dr. Phil and Judge Judy. They are locked in until 2020, and those are two of the strongest ones.

Daytime to me is a vast area of opportunity. As you look towards 2018, I think there’s going to be some real opportunity there. One of the reasons you don’t see a lot of shows is because people don’t want to take the risk. This year, for example, there’s not even one bigname talk show coming to air. That certainly makes the tried-and-true more attractive.

Do you think TV station groups will continue to try to produce their own programming, and is there a role for CTD to partner with station groups in these sorts of productions?
All of those station groups are great partners of ours for many reasons. This is a very challenging business in which to launch and create hits, but it’s certainly a business that can thrive. We need a hit. If stations are open to trying shows, we certainly are too. We’ve had discussions with groups about their product and what we might be able to do to get more involved. One path of several to get a show on the air is a station group.

Anything and everything is on the table. For our business, broadcast is still the leader of the pack. In terms of how we model things out, you have to look at everything. Is there a cable sale? [Subscription video- on-demand] sale? Are there other platforms on which to place a show to increase the rating? Is there an international marketplace for your show, which can increase the cash? We model it out that way, but broadcasting is still where our bread and butter is.

Fox tested six shows over the summer. CTD and CBS have done a bit of testing over the years, but not as much as other groups. Is that something you are open to?
We are very much open to it. A lot of the things are, what’s the concept and is it right for a test, whether it be our station group or others. I was at Fox and I saw those tests work successfully and I also saw them fail. It all comes back to what’s the idea, what’s the concept, what’s the model? Is it something that over a three- to four-week period of time, you could see it evolving into a strip? Everything’s on the table.