CBS repeating history

By Published on .

CBS' upfront strategy reminds media veterans of the upfront circa 1982-a similar gamble that didn't pay off.

Then Paul Isacsson, VP-advertising sales for CBS Television Network, came up with a upfront game plan to avoid offering demographic guarantees to advertisers. The reason: Its demographics were so poor that its rating guarantees would have been at levels 10% to 15% lower than the year before. While CBS would have brought in more revenue overall, its unit prices would have gone down sharply.

Mr. Isacsson's logic was that the marketplace was strong enough that whatever the network couldn't sell in the upfront, it would be able to sell in the scatter market, perhaps at even higher prices. This was naturally helped by the fact that at the time there were only three broadcast networks ruling the day.

In the Electronic Media Edition of Advertising Age, on July 29, 1982, it was reported that a McCann-Erickson executive "said that resistance to CBS' high prices and refusal to give anything but homes guarantees was driving more money into ABC and NBC. But that is a threat that CBS was aware of when it decided to get tough on the guarantee issue; privately, some network executives admit CBS won't get as high a percentage share of the market as it did last year."

Just as was proven this year, CBS, now a Viacom unit, succumbed to a lower overall take. Advertisers didn't go for CBS' stringent guidelines and the network lost some money to rivals during the upfront.

The debacle would have cost CBS anyway-either with lower unit prices or lower overall upfront revenue. "It was an impossible situation for Paul," said one veteran media executive. "He tried to explain to the CBS corporate guys about this, but they didn't get it."

Subsequently, Mr. Isacsson moved to a corporate planning job at CBS; Jerry Dominus took over as VP-advertising sales at CBS. Currently, Mr. Isacsson is chairman of IDM International, New York, an independent media agency.

Most Popular
In this article: