NCAA tournament ratings give CBS the good news it craves

Media Watch

March 19, 1996|By Milton Kent

NEW YORK -- Don't think David Kenin doesn't miss Joe Smith, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse as much as Gary Williams and Dean Smith do.

Kenin, the president of CBS Sports, misses the three would-be juniors and any other underclassmen who split early from college last season.

Their absence has not only caused a basketball talent drain that is acutely felt at this time of the year in the NCAA tournament, which CBS just happens to have exclusive rights to, but they took their skills to the NBA, which now belongs to NBC.

"I think it would be great for the sports fan to see these great amateurs mature, get educated and be prepared for life in a fuller kind of way. But the marketplace has its own life," Kenin said last week. "If you don't have the kids stay for four years, you don't have the great players that you want to see play against some other great athletes."

Through the tournament's first weekend, CBS, which has committed $1.7 billion to college basketball's postseason through the year 2002, reaped some rewards: The overnight ratings for the first and second rounds were up 4 percent from the same time last season.

That's a welcome change from the slide for the network's regular-season ratings, which is particularly troublesome since college basketball is the backbone of CBS' winter schedule.

"We're going to do something. We have to do something," said Kenin. "The issue is sort of like global warming. We are skiers and there's global warming going on and we're saying, 'We've got to do something about this.' It's very hard to figure out where the dials are."

The tournament is a godsend not only for CBS' sports division, but for the entire network, which has fallen behind Fox in some key demographics and needs the three weeks of attention March Madness brings.

In that vein, Kenin has pledged to work with Les Moonves, who runs the prime-time schedule, to maximize the network's promotional opportunities during the tournament without offending the hard-core fan's sensibilities.

That means you can expect to see a lot more of those promos for the new Don Johnson show over the next couple of weeks, as well as for the coming bio of former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano.

Kenin, who took over for Neal Pilson in April 1994, remains optimistic about CBS' comeback but admits that he has been troubled by a couple of highly publicized stumbles by two of his announcers, Ben Wright and Billy Packer.

Wright, a golf analyst, made offensive remarks last May about women's golf and lesbians. Packer referred to Georgetown guard Allen Iverson as a "tough monkey" two weeks ago.

Wright subsequently was dismissed and Packer apologized to Iverson, but the two incidents put a crimp in the network's attempts to rise above the losses of professional football, basketball and baseball.

"You feel deflated as a human being. You work so hard to get something done and something like this affects you as a human being," said Kenin, who dealt effectively with both situations. "You're looking at each other and you're saying, 'We're great people. We're quality people. Why do we have to answer these questions? Why do we have to get into this mode?' "

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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