While it did not involve an acquisition, the CBS local crew has undergone a merger of sorts. Four years ago, Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, set out to restructure the Local Media division and get the group’s TV and radio stations collaborating more. Unlike most of its competition, the CBS owned stations have sister radio outlets that, at the time, were much more competitors than collaborators. Moonves brought in Ezra Kucharz, whose résumé includes a stint as a NASA engineer, to be president of CBS Local Digital Media, and get the various channels in a given market working together on content, promotions and sales.
The stations’ various websites were rolled into common market sites, such as newyork.cbslocal.com, with common digital teams. Sharing their areas of reporting expertise and promotional heft, the local sites’ combined monthly unique visitors were on course for record traffic in January, closing in on 54 million. The figure was 15-17 million when Kucharz undertook the project; he credits more compelling content, greater user engagement and Mother Nature for January’s blockbuster traffic. “We got a little help from the polar vortex,” he says.
Local digital revenue is close to double what it was when the mission began, notes Anton Guitano, COO of CBS Local Media, which did not provide specific revenue figures.
While it’s difficult to draw a direct link between increased online traffic and TV ratings, CBS Television Stations president Peter Dunn says ratings and revenue in the group are up, and he suspects the joint digital strategy is a factor. “Working together has paid off with increased revenue for all of us,” Dunn says.
CBS’ local gurus offered tips on bringing disparate factions together. The key to gaining buy-in at the station level was having Moonves throw his full weight into the initiative, they agree. Another was pulling off the first market collaboration successfully— what Guitano calls “coming up with wins early.” The principals targeted New York, where CBS properties include WCBS and radio stations WCBS-AM, 1010WINS and WFAN. (TV station WLNY joined the group in 2012.) “That way, we could say, we’re not only telling you to do it—we’re doing it ourselves,” says Guitano.
Another key figure in the local market collaboration is Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio. The New York operation flexed its collective muscle during Hurricane Sandy. “Everybody covered something unique, and it gave us the greatest breadth of any news organization in New York,” Kucharz says.
Kucharz, who reports to Guitano, mentions the importance of “over-communicating” with local staffers about the goals and their roles in attaining them. Guitano says each market visit is a chance to check in and see how things are working, and how they can be improved. “It’s, what are the issues, what can we do better, how do we get more buy-in,” he says.
Kucharz marks his four-year anniversary at CBS this month, and aims to continue stoking local online engagement with more video and richer mobile content. “We’ve done a great job growing the business,” he says, “while pivoting the business.”