One Year On, CBS in Gotham Is Thrilled With Dynamic Duopoly

Moonves says WLNY New York has been “magnificent,” while O&O group is on a roll

A year has passed since CBS Television Stations
completed the tricky maneuver of crafting
a duopoly in the nation’s largest DMA, and
several interested parties are calling the $55 million
acquisition a win. The pickup of Long Island-based
WLNY gave CBS its 10th duopoly, enhanced its syndicated
offerings in New York thanks to the buying power
of two stations and gave the network a second broadcast
platform when major news events hit Gotham.

Peter Dunn, group president and general manager at flagship WCBS, calls WCBS-WLNY a “great marriage”
for a range of reasons. “It gave us a ton of flexibility
during [Superstorm] Sandy,” he says. “If you didn’t want
to watch live coverage on WCBS, you could see your
favorite CBS shows on WLNY. We didn’t miss a beat.”

The CBS station group, says Dunn, has not been missing
many beats of late. While the network’s primetime
has been booming for years, the local outlets are doing a
better job of converting lead-ins into local ratings points.
Every CBS O&O was rated No. 1 in primetime for February
in households, 18-49 and 25-54, for the first time
since at least 1994, Dunn says. Late news retention
is also the best it’s been in years—the O&Os improved
their prime lead-in 3% in February—which insiders say
is a function of sharper promos, better internal sharing
of hot stories and consistency among talent.

It will take lots more hustle to supplant the ABCowned
stations as market leaders, though the CBS stations
have withstood a challenge from an NBC-owned
group that is much better funded than it was before
Comcast’s acquisition.

Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, can
see the group is humming. “The financial results are
better, the creative results are better and the ratings
results are better,” Moonves tells B&C.

New advertising business was up 50% last year,
Dunn adds, with stronger returns from the healthcare
and education categories. The group’s Mobile Weather
Lab vehicles brand the local CBS station in severe
weather, and also generate substantial revenue from
auto dealers eager to sponsor the franchise. Stations
in Baltimore and Pittsburgh will get Mobile Weather
trucks later this year.

The CBS group has weathered some challenges too.
Its multicast channel rollout slowed after New York
and Philadelphia debuted digi-nets in 2011. CBS takes
pride in low talent turnover, but it had a noisy departure
in February when WCBS anchor Rob Morrison
was arrested following a domestic dispute and resigned.
The group’s morning news needs work as well.

But CBS nonetheless appears to be an increasingly
desirable place to work. Since September, Dunn has
tapped prominent industry vets Mark Lund, former
executive VP of sales at the NBC owned group (and
son of former CBS president Peter Lund); Marty Wilke,
longtime WGN Chicago GM; and Stan Gill, former
Acme Communications president, to run stations.

Moonves believes the quality of the group’s chiefs is
better than it’s been in some time. “There’s no question
we felt there were great athletes available, and we got
them,” he says.

Another key hire was Betty Ellen Berlamino, who
came on as group senior VP of sales in 2011 and shifted
to WLNY boss exactly a year ago.

WLNY went from 3.4 million total viewers in January-
February 2012 to 5.3 million during that same point
in 2013, a 56% gain. With three Long Island reporters,
the station programs 15 hours of New York coverage
per week, including a 9 p.m. newscast. The former
“TV-55” will add the syndicated Mike & Molly in 2014.

CBS’ arrival on Long Island was seen by media pundits
as adding a key second voice in the region, which is
dominated by Cablevision, owner of cable net News 12
and newspaper Newsday. Jaci Clement, executive director
of the watchdog group Fair Media Council, gives
CBS a good grade for its rookie year but wants to see
improvement. WLNY’s “hideously out of date” studio
on the Island has not been updated, she said, and too
many Long Island stories end up on WCBS instead of
WLNY. But local coverage, she notes, has increased.

“Our expectations are extremely high,” says Clement.
“And we want CBS to meet them.”

WLNY has surpassed its new parent’s expectations
thus far. “The idea of having a duopoly in a major city
was a great idea for us,” says Moonves. “The chance to
run a brand-new station with not a lot of cost, per se,
has worked out magnificently.”

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