Having three strong networks "is the best for the industry because it's best for the American viewer," a top CBS official said Friday at the Century Plaza Hotel.
Gene Jankowski, president of the CBS Broadcast Group, said it's important for all three commercial networks to remain fairly close in the ratings in order to keep up ad rates and program quality.
"If one or two networks get way out in front and the third becomes a weak sibling, it causes all kinds of other problems," Jankowski told a gathering of the nation's TV critics. "The advertising revenues suddenly get determined by the low rates the third network charges, which means the other two networks can't get the revenues that their performance deserves."
Responding to a comment made Wednesday by NBC chairman Grant Tinker, that CBS executives could be "in worse trouble than they know," Jankowski said that he thinks Tinker probably "regrets having said it."
Tinker's comment was based on CBS' contention earlier this year that its ratings were the same last season as they were the year before, when CBS was No. 1. Tinker, speaking in Maui at the network's annual affiliate stations meeting, said: "I think at CBS . . . if they believe what they're saying, that we had a good year but they had the same year they had last year, I really think they're in worse trouble than they know."
Jankowski, clarifying CBS' original position, said that both this season and last the network "averaged 14,350,000 homes in prime time." But NBC grew "whereas we didn't grow like they did so we wound up being No. 2."
"From our point of view, that means we've got some problems that need to be addressed." Specifically, Jankowski said, CBS hopes to bolster its 8-9 p.m. series. CBS has maintained, and Nielsen ratings figures confirm, that CBS topped NBC's ratings by a fraction of a percentage point in the 9-11 p.m. time slots.