Joe Abruzzese

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Young and male-targeted CBS-TV advertisers have been the real survivors over the last few years, feeding on whatever programming rations the older and female-targeted network could air.

With the network's sudden ratings rise, CBS President of Ad Sales Joe Abruzzese has treated them to what amounts to an exotic feast.

Non-traditional CBS sponsors, which took a chance on a little-known program called "Survivor," reaped a ratings bonanza this summer as the show overdelivered in ratings by four times the original estimate. As any media buyer might say, it's rare when networks deliver better ratings than promised these days.

"I told Tony Ponturo that A-B was in all three programs where we overdelivered: the first year of `David Letterman,' the Lillehammer Olympics, and this," says Mr. Abruzzese.

CBS didn't always have the programming that fitted Anheuser-Busch's mostly young male demographic. There was no top-flight football programming after CBS lost out in the latest NFL contract. But A-B recognized the value of keeping close with Mr. Abruzzese.

"Call him old-fashioned, but he hasn't forgotten people that have been with him," says Mr. Ponturo, VP-corporate media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. "For five years, CBS didn't have football. But we bought the Olympics, college basketball and motor racing."

Now that CBS has NFL football again, as well as the "Survivor" series, Mr. Ponturo has nothing but praise for Mr. Abruzzese, especially when it comes to loyalty to advertisers such as A-B. "He would say to one agency, `I'll let you know what I can do for your client after I take care of the partner who was with me in the dry years,' " says Mr. Ponturo.

The same goes for movie companies that haven't been regular prime-time CBS advertisers in years.

"Joe Abruzzese was great," says Betty Pat McCoy, senior VP-director of national broadcast at GSD&M, Chicago, who buys for DreamWorks Pictures. "He would always come to see us even though we weren't the biggest player in town. He'd always ask how CBS could help us." DreamWorks was one movie studio that bought into the final episode of "Survivor" last month.

Now CBS, which raked in $1.7 billion in last June's upfront, seems to be working on all cylinders for its client advertisers. In past years the entertainment division would regularly move its special programming around the schedule on short notice, creating big headaches for sponsors. "We get great cooperation from Les Moonves [president-CEO, CBS Television] in scheduling," he says.

Since the new regime took over some years ago, with Mel Karmazin, president-CEO of CBS Corp., at the helm, the sales culture has changed.

Sales staffers "put in longer hours," he says. "Now there are no meetings during work hours; we go out on sales calls. A bigger portion of [compensation] comes from commission. It's . . . more incentivized."

"You always try to challenge yourself in thinking about new ways of selling," says Mr. Abruzzese, who has worked at CBS for more than 20 years in a number of advertising sales positions, and before that at NBC for 10 years.

Mr. Ponturo gives credit to Mr. Abruzzese for hanging on in the tougher times. "He has learned how to adjust. It's tough working at the networks, especially with the `What-have-you-done-for-me-lately' attitude."

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