RANCE CRAIN;ONE MEDIA DEAL THAT'S UNCONVENTIONALLY WISE

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Conventional wisdom has it that Westinghouse won't turn out to be a very good owner of CBS. Conventional wisdom will turn out to be wrong, as it so often is.

Everybody is falling all over each other to say how wonderful the Cap Cities/ABC and Disney amalgamation is, and how uninspired Westinghouse's proposed buyout of CBS is. Turner, they say, would make a far better owner.

If Turner had succeeded in acquiring CBS in 1986, before Laurence Tisch snatched it away, he would have done exactly what Tisch ended up doing: selling off all the media subsidiaries-magazines, records-to concentrate on broadcasting. As a matter of fact, Turner's plans were spelled out in the prospectus he issued back then.

If Westinghouse ends up becoming the owner of CBS, it will be free to buy programming from all comers. "Assuring superior programming does not require that we buy or align with a single Hollywood studio," a Group W executive told Electronic Media. That's not conventional wisdom either.

One of the dangers of the Disney-ABC deal is that Disney will be tempted to use its new distribution outlet to air Disney TV shows. Already there's talk of replacing ABC-TV's Saturday morning cartoons with its own fare.

That, of course, would be a mistake. Kids want more than Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh, and there's even a chance of overexposing the Disney characters, which could make the little tots less eager to visit the Disney theme parks and buy Disney toys and dolls.

The Westinghouse strategy with CBS emphasizes the distribution side of the equation. "We have felt in the emerging world, the distribution component could be underestimated," Bill Korn, Group W's chairman and CEO, told EM. "With all the deregulation and consolidation that is occurring, if you have distribution, in addition to content you make and improve, you would be a magnet for independently produced content."

Especially if the other networks jump into the waiting arms of amorous Hollywood studios. What a strategic advantage to be aligned with no one.

If there's any synergy to be gained from the deal, Westinghouse sees it at the local level.

In Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco, Group W has defied conventional wisdom by not only combining the news-gathering, sales and marketing functions of the TV and radio stations it owns within each city but also selling them to consumers as a "one sight-one sound" presence in those markets.

Mr. Korn explained to EM that such an approach ensures the 15 TV stations and 39 radio stations in the merged companies "will comprise a powerful entity, and one of the few examples where one plus one really does add up to three."

All of this is real. It has worked with the Group W stations and will work even better when the CBS radio and TV stations are added to the mix.

So hooray not for Hollywood but for Westinghouse.

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