CBS Inc. named broadcasting veteran John Severino president of its television stations division Tuesday and announced a restructuring under which the group will report to Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS Television.
The moves expands the role of Moonves, making him the clear No. 2 behind CBS Chief Executive Mel Karmazin, while moving the TV station division from New York to Los Angeles, where both Severino and Moonves are based.
Severino, who was president of ABC Television Network for five years in the 1980s and most recently was president and chief executive of Central European Media Enterprises, succeeds Jonathan Klein, who resigned in May. In addition to supervising CBS' 16 television stations, Severino will become general manager of KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, a position that has been vacant since John Culliton resigned in September 1998.
Industry executives say Tuesday's moves are an acknowledgment of the importance of the CBS station group to the company's profitability. The group, which last year contributed more than half of CBS' profit, has historically underperformed the station divisions of the other major networks. Karmazin has dramatically improved results since taking them over two years ago, elevating profit margins to the 50% level more common at ABC.
But the stations have still had trouble in the ratings, with many, including the local KCBS, lagging in third or fourth place in the evening news that leads into prime time. The group made about $510 million in profit last year, less than NBC, whose station group is smaller, and Fox, whose division is only slightly larger.
"The stations have been run badly for years," said Alan Bell, president of Freedom Broadcasting, which owns five CBS affiliates. "It has been a dumping ground for people who couldn't do anything else in the company."
Bell praised the improvements in network performance under Karmazin and Moonves and said that further tapping Moonves' programming and management expertise could bring additional gains.
Since joining CBS as president of entertainment four years ago, Moonves has quickly added to his portfolio, taking on responsibilities for programming areas outside of prime time such as news and sports. He has improved household ratings of the network, although CBS still trails NBC, Fox and ABC in the key young demographics that advertisers pay the most to reach.