The Biz: M[orning]TV to the rescue at CBS?

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After parting with Bryant Gumbel, co-host of "The Early Show," CBS is facing the music, and it might be a little MTV music.

Long known for its low-rated morning shows-consistently third place finisher to NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America"- some media agency executives suggest CBS should play a new tune. One suggested an accompanist: sibling Viacom company MTV to create a younger and hipper version of network morning programming.

Going after the current pool of early-morning viewers-mainly older adults 35-plus-is a limited move. NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" have already locked up that slice of the audience. By aiming to attract adults 18-49, CBS could attract more money since many advertisers covet a younger audience.

CBS executives say they are open-minded but don't want to change just for the sake of change. CBS' primary concern is to replace Mr. Gumbel. This will be the first challenge for incoming producer Michael Bass, who is replacing departing senior executive producer Steve Friedman.

But the network is anxious to capitalize on the success of suddenly becoming a player in the race for the 18-49 viewers thanks to its Thursday night hits "Survivor" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." A show with a musical bent could attract a similar audience to mornings.

And the daypart, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., is ripe for a shakeup. The format has not seen any significant programming changes in nearly 50 years.

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"I like the idea," says Brad Adgate, senior VP-audience research at media buying group Horizon Media, New York. "A [VH1-produced show] might be a little more along the lines. A lot of people are up at that hour. Usage levels are up across the board, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. They have been up for the last 10 years."

Viacom has a number of companies that could contribute to the process. "There are cross-promotion possibilities," Mr. Adgate notes, "using Infinity radio, the cable network holdings, UPN or other youth-targeted media venues."

Not everyone believes MTV or VH-1 is the quick fix answer-but most agree a younger profile is certainly needed.

"You could have an early morning show that is younger [than what's on CBS now]," says Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of audience analysis, Interpublic's Magna Global USA. But, he adds, "It's hard to get young viewers if they aren't watching TV in the early morning."

CBS has had modest success pulling in young viewers with "The Early Show," as ratings among that demographic spiked on Fridays when it aired segments featuring the high-profile "Survivor" cast members. Two years ago, CBS created a ratings blockbuster with the initial version of the show "Survivor." And it did so during what was traditionally considered the weakest time period: the summer. For the first time in many years, CBS stopped the network erosion of adults 18-49 by adding viewers.

Right now for "The Early Show," CBS is earning a Nielsen Media Research 2.2 household rating, which hasn't changed vs. a year ago. "Today" still holds the No. 1 spot with a 5.0-down 7% vs. a year ago. "Good Morning America" has remained steady at No. 2 with a 3.8 rating

The reason CBS has stuck with the current formula is that all the morning shows, including "The Early Show," are profitable. Even lagging CBS garnered $177 million last year in ad revenue, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. NBC brought in $405 million, while ABC had $395 million."It doesn't cost as much," as prime-time programming, says Stacey Lynn Koerner, senior VP-programming analysis, Interpublic's Initiative Media, New York. "You also have local news affiliates to consider. That's why you can't go out on a limb."

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