NEW LIFE AT THE NETS

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Although the "domino theory" hasn't played well in the field of world politics, it clearly applies to the world of television, where events are producing new energy and new believers.

Everyone knew Rupert Murdoch started a dramatic and desperate round of musical chairs when he snatched from CBS TV its National Football League TV rights and followed that up with an acquisition of a number of CBS-TV affiliates through his brilliant deal with New World Communications Group. But who could predict these setbacks would amount to a wakeup call for Larry Tisch at CBS?

Mr. Tisch has just engineered his own brilliant deal, one that has industry experts saying it won't be Larry Tisch who winds up the loser when the dust settles. More likely it will be his rivals at NBC.

Faced with the need to restore a battered affiliates' roster in major markets after the Murdoch-New World raid, Mr. Tisch put himself and CBS in play and is now, we believe, still prepared to bring in Barry Diller to energize and direct the CBS TV network.

Yes, the QVC-CBS merger deal came apart. But we don't see Mr. Tisch and Mr. Diller as yet being through with each other. Their courtship goes on, in its baroque fashion.

Now comes Mr. Tisch's strategic alliance with five of Westinghouse Broadcasting's Group W TV stations. This will create major headaches for NBC and its Philadelphia and Boston affiliate lineup while it enables CBS to parlay the Group W deal into "swaps" involving stations in Detroit, Atlanta, and Dallas.

But aside from CBS and Fox, local TV station owners all over the country are seeing their investments grow in value in this new round of maneuvers. Clearly, now that Mr. Murdoch has shown his faith in the future of network TV, the network TV scene has brightened considerably.

Just when so many players were starting to downplay mass market network TV as a marketing tool, Mr. Murdoch has pumped new life into the industry. And as he creates new wealth for a lot of TV executives, he's also again teaching us an important lesson: With all the fuss over new media, never underestimate the staying power of good old network television.

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