EYE ON CBS RESPONSE SCRIPPS-HOWARD MAY JOIN AFFILIATES' MUSICAL CHAIRS

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LOS ANGELES-The eyes of the media world were trained on CBS' annual affiliates meeting here last week.

In the aftershock of Rupert Murdoch's raid of New World Communications Group's Big 3 network affiliates-including eight key CBS stations-observers from virtually every major trade and daily newspaper expected fireworks.

Instead, until late in the week they got only sparklers.

But at press time early Friday evening, CBS was talking to several station groups, including Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co. and the Post-Newsweek Broadcasting stations.

Whatever deals transpire will set off the second round in an affiliate war that will reverberate throughout every network.

Although there were rumors that CBS might seek to acquire or take minority stakes in station groups, current regulations forbid a network from owning stations reaching more than 25% of the U.S. and CBS is already careening toward that cap.

"We're always open to looking for station additions ... we're still open to that," CBS Chairman-CEO Larry Tisch said at the meeting.

"Of course, we start running into problems of capacity [with] the 25% rule, but we will be out there, active in the station market the same as everybody else."

Mr. Tisch noted that CBS has $1 billion in cash in the bank.

But some observers believed CBS was negotiating a minority stake that would give Black Rock the same kind of leverage Mr. Murdoch negotiated in the New World deal, while skirting FCC regs.

CBS affiliates, meanwhile, flocked to the annual conference hoping for reassurance.

"The affiliates are looking for the vision of the network-where are they going," said William Sullivan, president of WPAX-TV, Missoula, Mont., and chairman of CBS' affiliates advisory board.

They got that perspective over the next two days, in briefings on prime time, news and sports, and details of a massive CBS marketing campaign set for this summer.

The effort, dubbed "Eye Dentity," incorporates CBS' most visible icons-its stars and the ubiquitous black eye logo. At the center of the branding effort is a new ad campaign theme featuring CBS entertainment and news personalities declaring "I am CBS." CBS also disclosed new fall promotional tie-ins with Kmart Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co. Back on Madison Avenue, lack of concern about the impact the Fox/New World deal will have on CBS next season was underscored when the two largest U.S. advertisers made major ad commitments to Black Rock for the 1994-95 season.

General Motors Corp. closed an upfront deal that's believed to shift nearly $100 million out of sports into CBS' prime-time schedule. And P&G, besides a spot TV commitment announced last week to support the CBS tie-in, is believed to be close to finalizing a prime-time upfront deal via TeleVest, a unit of D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.

Network executives estimated several hundred million dollars in upfront budgets already had been committed to the four networks, but heavy action should begin this week. Prime-time upfront is expected to hit about $4.1 billion this year, up 13.9% from last year.

Prime time aside, CBS President Peter Lund said his network hoped to sell a new Sunday afternoon women's programming block in upfront. But due to the plan's late announcement, it might end up being peddled on the scatter market.

Last week, CBS executives debunked speculation about creating an alternative football league, such as the A League, stressing they are committed to the counterprogramming block.

Indeed, CBS Exec VP-Research and Planning Dave Poltrack predicted the Sunday programming block would beat football in non-NFL markets.

Mr. Poltrack, whose projections have been accurate within one-tenth of a rating point for the past three seasons, also predicted CBS' fourth straight win for the 1994-95 prime-time season. He projects a 13.3 ratings average for CBS, compared with a 12.5 for ABC, a 10.8 for NBC, and a 7.3 for Fox.

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