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War News vs. Sports Really is Brand vs. Brand March 21, 2003

Posted by David Card in Uncategorized.

Interesting NYTimes piece on CBS’ decision to push basketball to ESPN in favor of war coverage. Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS, said during an interview at the CBS Broadcast Center: “As soon as the war began, we felt it was our obligation to go with wall-to-wall news coverage. Anyone who wanted to get the basketball games could get the basketball games.”

I disagree with this, but freely admit that my reasoning is extremist. CBS essentially made a brand decision: it deemed it was more important to support the CBS News brand (and Dan Rather, et al) than the CBS Sports brand. This might be legit – given that ESPN’s sports brand is pretty untouchable, and it’s conceivable that CBS News could regain some luster that would halo the whole network.

My extremism is that I think network news is a relic of the 1960’s, and has limited value in branding a general-purpose network anymore. In my admittedly cynical view, CBS should have been more concerned with raw ratings (and the accompanying revenue and promotional opportunites), than illusory halo effects and “good citizenship.”

On top of that, news is over-supplied and too expensive. Finally, CBS News connotes old-school CBS, ie, as my former colleague Pat Keane used to say, “the network of the nearly dead.”

It’s a fragmented world; audiences go to specialist programmers. The mission of a general-purpose network is to gather audiences under an umbrella visible network , cross-promote, and offer exclusive event programming.

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