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CBS Chief in Mood to Buy Not Sell

Times Staff Writer

CBS hopes to buy up to three more TV stations next year, and has no plans to sell either the CBS television network or its radio properties, President Laurence A. Tisch said Wednesday.

He also rejected what he called assertions by “practitioners and pundits” that major changes in broadcasting in recent years mean the era of network TV is over and that network evening newscasts may soon die.

Cable, videocassettes and independent stations have contributed to a decline in network audiences--from 90% at the start of this decade to about 68% in prime time now, according to CBS estimates.

Still, Tisch said in an appearance here at a luncheon of the International Radio and Television Society, “I firmly believe that the three networks will nonetheless persist as the first choice of most viewers.”

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Five years from now, he said in response to a question, “you’re going to see . . . the three networks maintaining pretty close to their present share of audience. . . . I think it (network loss of audience) is pretty nearly over.”

And, he added, “we’re here to stay. It’s our job to do better programming.”

Tisch, who owns nearly 25% of CBS and became its president after a top-level shake-up in 1986, reiterated his oft-expressed statement that he has no plans to sell the CBS television network.

Speculation to that effect arises periodically and is emphatically denied by Tisch each time. On Wednesday, he characterized as “absolute nonsense” a Time magazine report last week that said some in the industry think he wants to sell the network.

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In a question-and-answer session following his formal remarks, Tisch was asked whether CBS will get out of the radio business. NBC has done so in the past year.

“My position is that we are in the radio business to stay,” the CBS chief replied. “It is part of our core broadcasting business. . . . Our radio (business) is not for sale at any price.”

When asked what CBS plans to do with the millions it has made from the sale of the company’s non-broadcast properties, including CBS Records, he said that it plans to buy more TV stations.

CBS, which had owned four stations, including KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles, in August bought independent station WCIX-TV in Miami for $59 million.

The Federal Communications Commission allows companies to own up to 12 stations, provided that the stations’ total share of the national audience doesn’t exceed 25%.

The Miami purchase, Tisch said, brings CBS to nearly 22% of that audience share, and “we hope to add two to three more stations in the next year to bring us up to the 25% (limit).” He did not elaborate.

In his speech, Tisch indirectly ruled out the prospect of cable involvement by CBS by warning, “Do not look to us for exciting announcements of exotic business ventures.”

Despite the appeal of cable and pay-TV, he said, “Nothing we might do in any other video area would have the long-term payoff that can come from real improvement in our prime-time schedule.”

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CBS, which ended last season third in the prime-time ratings for the first time in its history, currently is behind second-place ABC by more than a ratings point in season-to-date averages.

But CBS, which pitted TV movies and specials against NBC’s Olympics and the baseball championships on NBC and ABC, will start competing in earnest next week when it begins to premiere its prime-time series.

“Reprogramming the network is our paramount concern, and it must remain so until CBS is again the ratings leader,” Tisch said, asserting that that effort already has begun with better promotion and “the largest program development budget in the history of CBS.”


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