Back to sell the show as Tiffany net puts three-ring circus under one tent

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Scot McLernon was on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in April when he got a call on his cellphone from Leslie Moonves, CBS chairman. Mr. McLernon, an admitted workaholic, was on an extended vacation after CBS MarketWatch, the site he helped build, was sold to Dow Jones and Co. and he was preparing to coast into his next gig at a New York Internet technology company, where he'd been guaranteed Fridays to work at home with his family in the San Francisco area.

But Mr. Moonves made an offer he couldn't refuse. Join his old boss, MarketWatch founder Larry Kramer, in a new endeavor-transforming the newly united CBS network Web sites into an advertising powerhouse, with package deals across properties. When the CBS chairman assured Mr. McLernon "that we would have the autonomy of an entrepreneurial business inside of a well-respected and well-established content brand," he said good-bye to the long weekends at home and took the job.

He had just spent eight years as VP-chief sales and strategy officer at CBS MarketWatch while Mr. Kramer oversaw the site. "We're getting the band back together," he quipped at the time his homecoming was announced. But the task ahead was "monumental," Mr. McLernon admitted.

Mr. McLernon, 44, has been hard at work since he returned to CBS as VP-advertising sales of CBS Digital on May 2. After Mr. Kramer organized CBS.com, CBSNews.com and CBSSportsline.com under one corporate roof, CBS Digital Media, Mr. McLernon got busy creating awareness in the market and bolstering the sales staff.

Two months later, CBS Digital rolled out a 24-hour news service on CBSNews.com featuring original reporting and commentary, the network's celebrity newscasters, podcasts and even a blog that will shed light on how the newsgathering process works. The news site has been redesigned with clear, easily navigable topics and presents 25,000 video clips, which have not appeared on TV. For broadband-mad advertisers begging for streaming media on an inventory-poor Internet, the video content is big news.

But, insiders add, both entertainment Web site CBS.com and SportsLine cry out for more video and interactive features along the lines of the audience voting during the show "Big Brother." SportsLine is recognized for its good sports coverage, but it is still battling the better-rated ESPN and Fox Sports on MSN, which are rich with sight, sound and motion.

STILL LANGUISHING

As for CBSNews.com, in June it still languished at No. 17 among the NetRatings ranking of Top 20 Online Current Events and Global News Destinations. Worse, the site had steadily slipped since January when it was No. 14.

And, media buyers are skeptical of Mr. McLernon's strategy of offering package deals across the CBS sites.

Counters Mr. McLernon: "Everybody who goes on any site gets a headache now and then, buys a car, goes to the movies." He said now that he's hiring sales staff dedicated to the Web, "Not only do we have interest by network TV advertisers to CBS.com, but there's also interest in all three of our Web properties."

Other media professionals and online colleagues point to Mr. McLernon's longevity at MarketWatch and reputation among marketers. "He is without question the pre-eminent online salesperson in the country," said Dave Morgan, CEO of behavioral targeting firm Tacoda.

They mention that Mr. McLernon was the first to use dayparting online and disparage the use of clicks as a measurement device. Mr. McLernon came up with selling dayparting online as a ploy to kick-start some business during a parched sales times in 2001. He signed Budweiser for Friday afternoons. "Every Friday about noon a Bud bottle started pouring on the front page of CBS MarketWatch," Mr. Kramer recalled. "Bud signed on for a year, which was a huge amount of money for us."

And he and Mr. Kramer are a proven team. "We were in a new medium with no playbook," Mr. Kramer recalled about the MarketWatch days. "Scot's a strong relationship guy. He's got a common touch, and he's an idea guy."

Mr. McLernon said he and Mr. Kramer are still making things up as they go along. The next Internet opportunity is entertainment, he said. "If you can tell a story and make people laugh or cry in a 30-second ad, think what you can do in two or three minutes. We already have the content [at CBS], and we need to explore it."

Just Asking

What do you do when you're not remaking Web sites?

I'm a member of a garage-wine-making band. I own a small vineyard and with others in the group make a real good Syrah Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Has wine-making taught you anything about online marketing?

For running a sales team, wine-making and parenting, there's no blueprint. You rely on your intuition.

As the founder of online dayparting, what's your favorite daypart?

The absolute joy of my life is driving my kids (Trevor, 10, and Susanne, 7) to school on Friday morning.

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