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Kane Outlines Blueprint for Viacom Group

10/21/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Kane Outlines Blueprint for Viacom Group When sweeps kick off next week, look for the 40 Viacom-owned stations to make some noise. Stronger promotion is one of the mandates from the new station-group chief, Tom Kane. And with good reason: CBS boasts the most-watched prime time on TV, and UPN is enjoying newfound success with Everybody Hates Chris and America's Next Top Model. Kane wants his stations to build on the successes and do a better job of selling viewers on the entire slate.

“CBS' prime time brings us eyeballs, and we have an opportunity to tell people who and what we are,” Kane told B&C in his first interview as station-group boss. UPN's hits, he adds, “are bringing new people to the network that didn't give it a shot before.”

While Kane is preaching promotion, he isn't calling for drastic changes at the country's largest TV-station group. The Viacom stations, particularly the 17 CBS outlets, are in the midst of a three-year-old overhaul. Local management has shaken up news and syndication lineups, and the makeover remains a work in progress.

REPLACING REYNOLDS

In September, Viacom Co-COO/CBS Chairman Les Moonves tapped Kane, formerly the stations' president of sales, to be CEO/president, replacing Fred Reynolds, who will be CFO of the new CBS Corp. when Viacom splits into two companies. Kane got the job over former Executive VP/COO Dennis Swanson, who recently bolted to become president of the Fox Television Stations Group.

Kane says he'll retain much of his predecessors' game plan. “We're going to continue to work these local stations into better, more competitive situations,” he says. Emphasizing news and promotion, he adds, is critical.

Since Swanson's defection, there has been widespread speculation that some station managers would follow him to Fox. Two days before Fox announced Swanson's deal, former WCBS President Lew Leone moved over to run Fox's New York duopoly. But many of the general managers and news directors are under contract with Viacom, and Swanson is said to have a non-solicitation agreement.

For Kane, keeping the team intact is crucial. When CBS Corp. stands on its own, the TV stations will be one of its largest profit centers. “Tom Kane has to be able to sustain the group,” says one broadcast consultant.

Most of the CBS O&Os have seen upticks in ratings, but many lag in key local newscasts, particularly WCBS New York, KYW Philadelphia and WBZ Boston. A few traditionally strong O&Os, such as WFOR Miami, WJZ Baltimore and KDKA Pittsburgh, have solidified their positions.

BUILDING BLOCKS IN PLACE

Some building blocks are already in place. Dr. Phil is running on the bulk of the CBS-owned stations and, in some markets, replays on sister UPN outlets. “In such a fragmented world, the audience flow from Dr. Phil makes a difference going into evening news,” Kane says.

Late news, however, remains a trouble spot. Despite the network's prime time success and new anchor talent in many cities, the biggest CBS outlets are still outpaced by their rivals. WCBS, KYW and WBZ are all down in 11 p.m. news ratings versus last fall. Although they trail the NBC and ABC stations in their markets, KCBS' 11 p.m. marks are up 30%, and WBBM pushed ahead 16%.

The group's highest-rated late newscasts are in midsize markets, such as WCCO Minneapolis, averaging a 13.3 rating/23 share this season, and KDKA Pittsburgh, with a 13.2/22.

Kane brings a successful track record to the fight. Before joining Viacom two years ago, he spent seven years running WABC New York and previously headed ABC-owned powerhouse WPVI Philadelphia. He says he is well- prepared for the new challenge; as sales chief, he has already visited most Viacom stations and has been through two years of budgeting and program planning.

“I've been ready for someone to say 'Go,'” he says. “And the company finally said it.”

 

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