CBS Shows Rather Than Tells How to Buy

At Carnegie Hall, Celebs Explain Syndie, Radio, Digital Opportunities

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NEW YORK ( -- This year, all the big networks have the same problem: Advertisers want to hear about digital opportunities, but want to attach their ads to the high-quality TV programs for which CBS, NBC and the rest are best known. As CBS demonstrated at its upfront presentation yesterday, there are many different ways to tackle the issue.
Craig Ferguson and Nina Tassler
Craig Ferguson and Nina Tassler Credit: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS

On Monday, NBC Universal sent buyers and marketers racing through an expo of bells, whistles, flashing lights and sightings of celebrities including Kathy Griffin, John Madden and Maria Bartiromo, all part of an effort to show off a broader array of media wares that includes more than just the company's flagship broadcast network. Attendees complained, however, that the show was just that -- glitz and strobe lights, but not much more.

Beyond TV broadcasting
CBS tried to do the same thing yesterday, but offered steak along with the sizzle. Before presenting its 2008-09 programming lineup, the media company spent about 45 minutes talking about opportunities in outdoor advertising, syndication, radio and online. While the messages were delivered by personalities including Rachael Ray, Adam Carolla and Craig Ferguson (we don't consider fast-talking, sneaker-wearing CBS Interactive president Quincy Smith a celeb), the call to action for advertisers was more clear. CBS Upfront Presentation Gets High Marks From Media Buyers

That's not to say the presentation didn't have its flaws. Rachael Ray spent awkward minutes comparing CBS's syndie offerings to a "Chicken Barbecue Sammie," likening Dr. Phil to a slice of Bermuda onion and "Wheel of Fortune" to lettuce and tomato. We didn't get it, either. And Adam Carolla's shtick may work on radio, but it fell a little flat with the live audience. Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp.'s CEO, fared somewhat better with a metaphor comparing all of his company's offerings to a "CBS Orchestra" (don't forget, each year CBS presents its new lineup at Carnegie Hall).

"Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson, meanwhile, killed. (Noting how everyone in New York City seems to know about the TV biz, Mr. Ferguson told of being approached by a homeless person on the street, congratulating him on beating Conan O'Brien in the ratings. "How do you know that?" he asked him. "I own NBC," the homeless man replies. Later, he chastised the laughing marketers and media buyers, "Shut up! I'm a corporate shill. Let me get on with it.")

Message gets through
But all in all, CBS was able to do something the other networks have so far not: demonstrate how broadcast-TV content makes an appealing option when extended into media venues that are decidedly ancillary to traditional TV.

Meanwhile, NBC lit up dozens of TV sets and let buyers take their pictures with people in mummy suits; CW fed everyone and let its entertainment president, Dawn Ostroff, appear in the form of a hologram (huh?); and ABC presented a mirthless affair whose highlight was a showing of clips from this summer's "Wipeout," in which average people slam the bejeezus out of themselves while swinging on ropes and knocking their heads against big rubber balls and a wall of boxing gloves.

You shouldn't have to watch people get beat up in order to be persuaded to give a network some of your marketing cash.
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