January 4, 2011
Chris Oliviero will likely go down in history as the most successful intern in the history of the Howard Stern Show. It wasn't long, however, before he became a producer at Sports WFAN/New York, eventually becoming Executive Producer for WNEW's morning show. In 2005, he took a plum opportunity in the corporate division, as VP/Original Programming. Overseeing the gamut of CBS Radio's creative content, Oliviero offers his perspective on successful programming in today's PPM and multi-platform world.
Before your current corporate position, you previously programmed stations. What has been the biggest difference in your duties?
The biggest difference between programming stations at the corporate level vs. the local level is, obviously, you're much more involved in multiple formats, from the various music formats to News/Talk and Sports. Our company portfolio is so diverse, while at a local station, you're usually only dealing with one format. Today, though, almost every programmer needs to make sure they're up to speed on all of the various formats.
From a logistic standpoint I do miss being close to an active on-air studio everyday. You're not right down the hall, which is the hub of our business. That's where we make our money and our magic. That took some getting used to. That's why every chance I get to visit the stations -- either here, in New York or on the road -- I take the opportunity to stop by the studio because that's where the action is.
Would you ever consider going back to individual programming?
The way our company is set up, I'm still able to get my hands dirty in a lot of programming opportunities. I get my fill that way; I also get to work with the best programming minds in the country every day, from Kevin Weatherly to Mark Chernoff to Greg Strassell. It's a who's-who list of accomplished programmers to work side-by-side with and learn from ... and that's a great opportunity.
However, aren't CBS Radio stations assigning more stations to each programmer?
We've been very strategic in assigning more than one station to a PD. Some PDs do multiple stations, but a lot more still do one station. It's a case-by-case situation. If the company feels that a PD is best suited to oversee multiple stations, then we go for it. It has been very effective so far. It does rely on having good support staff, obviously. Any PD with day-to-day oversight of multiple stations has to have a great support staff, a strong APD and MD, etc.
By now, I assume all of CBS' major-market stations have gotten used to programming under the PPM. Looking at the big picture, have your stations fully reoriented their programming to maximizing electronic measurement?
Overall, our stations have done an excellent job responding to PPM. Our stations in Houston and Philadelphia have been PPM for several years now; they were the first two markets to jump in. So we had the great benefit to use our PDs, such as Steve Butler and Jeff Garrison, in those markets to help us as PPM rolled out nationwide. This access to great programming minds 24/7 is one of the benefits of being in a large broadcast company. Now that West Palm Beach and Hartford have recently switched to PPM, our stations are fully 100% PPM. We're no longer in any diary markets.
As I said, our PDs have done a great job in responding to the new measurement system, but we're not overlooking the most important fact -- that nothing really changes, from the diary to PPM, when it comes to creating great content. Great content will be rewarded with ratings; if you don't create great content, you will not be rewarded. It's that simple.
Some people have concluded that the PPM encourages minimal jock talk because the creative, heritage personalities are getting burned in the ratings. Agree?
That's an assumption a lot of people have made; I don't necessarily agree with that. There is still an enormous amount of high-profile talent at radio stations, such as Boomer & Carton and Kevin & Bean, to just name a few. These personalities have worked and honed their craft to not only respond to PPM, but to the changing tastes of their audience - and as a result they've continued to grow their audience. Some personality-driven shows have seen higher ratings in PPM than in diary, so I don't buy into that assumption that the PPM is the enemy of personalities or talent.
Has the Jack format, with its minimal jock talk, also benefited from the PPM, or did that have to be tweaked as well?
Obviously, just like any other music format, it comes down to the perfect mix of selecting and programming the right songs, but also creating an environment of compelling content around those songs. Yes, the Jack format does not have traditional DJs, but it does have great content ... a certain stickiness between the songs. We don't program it like a jukebox format, as some people wrongly believe. The format is successful because of the complete package -- and responsibility and credit for that goes directly goes back to the PD.
Has the pressure to be more profitable prompted you and CBS programmers to adopt more of a sales mentality?
I was taught a long time ago: Programmers should stick to programming and sales should stick to sales. Our job as programmers is to get the highest possible ratings, which they then turn it into revenue. We have a great sales force here at CBS Radio led by Michael Weiss, and 2010 has been a positive year of growth. It's the partnership and the cooperation between PDs and sales managers that help turn a GOOD performing station into a GREAT performing station.
How does that dovetail with the importance of programmer and sales working together?
There is a clear line of separation between programming and sales as there should be. At CBS, both are more like independent operators' with their own jurisdictions and goals. With that said, there is still a very strong camaraderie between programming and sales. There is a mutual respect so when a situation avails itself, we sit down at the table and go, "How can we help each other?"
It doesn't benefit us if the ratings go up but sales don't. The same is true when the situation is reversed. We both want to get to the same place at the end the day - and to do that, it must start with mutual respect. Are there disagreements at times? Sure, our meetings are not unlike anywhere else. The key is coming to a happy conclusion for the benefit of the company. Remember, some of my best friends are sales people!
Have your changed your goals for 2011?
Our main goals haven't changed; it's simply to maximize the ratings regardless of the format or market, especially with your target demo. If you are a young-skewing station that wants to attract 18-34 year-olds, or an adult-skewing station that targets 25-54s, you have to make sure you accomplish your goal. Our PDs are judged by ratings, just as they were in the 1970s, '80s and '90s, so the date on the calendar might have changed but our goals stay the same.
We are also asking PDs to continue to grow our digital footprint and to make sure their web and mobile presence continues to be cutting edge and ahead of the technology. All of these additional platforms are great, but if you don't have great content to populate them, all these platforms are empty. So we must make sure our mobile apps and websites are robust.
Thirdly, as we discussed we want our PDs to work closely with the sales staff to make sure our clients and advertisers, when they are deciding how to spend their marketing dollars, view radio as a compelling and essential partner to build their businesses.
You mentioned dominating a format or target demos as a goal. Your Top 40 brands, Amp and Now, are up against formidable heritage Top 40s in New York and Los Angeles. Do you change your goals in those cases?
Concerning the Top 40 battles in L.A. and N.Y., we believe those markets have a big enough pie in the youth demos for both our stations and our competitors' to be very successful. And PPM is confirming that with AMP and NOW. Overall, of course, you always must take specific competitive situations into account when making your decisions and establishing your goals.
Some people believe that it's shortsighted to look across the street as your competition these days, when they think your competition should be Pandora, Net radio and alternative media.
The days of the radio industry being myopic and looking solely at the other station as competition are long gone and thankfully so. The rival station is just one of a plethora of entertainment options that average Americans have at their fingertips, be it a competing radio station, cable TV, film, print or digital. The list goes on and on. We have to compete with all of them at attract people to spend more time with our product. We know they're spending more time with multiple media platforms; everyone acknowledges that. To focus all of our energy or attention on just one of the competitors -- and stick our head in the sand with the others - is not the best way to approach it. We are competing on many media platforms at once; with our goal being having each individual person spend significant time with us wherever our content may be.
Where does HD radio fit in your multi-platform mix?
We spend a lot of time discussing the possibilities and upside of HD, which we believe can be significant. We've tried some things; some of them work -- and some we didn't continue. We're still looking at new ways to expose our product. There's nothing better than coming up with great creative for an exclusive format or content experience, and HD allows us another platform to do this on. We also must help to drive awareness of HD by using our over-the-air radio stations to promote it. We still feel awareness is an issue for HD; we still have to educate the audience about its benefit.
What will be the keys to success in 2011 - primarily a better economy?
Beyond a robust economy, growing audience share, both over-the-air and online, will continue to be an important metric to judge our success at the end of 2011. We grew our over-the-air audience and our online/digital audience in 2010. We want to that again this year. From a pure programming standpoint, the mandate is always to grow audience -- and that's what our programmers aim to do
There have been rumors that some of the big radio groups will make more personnel cutbacks to spur profits. Can you foresee CBS doing that or are you running as "lean and mean" as you possibly can?
I don't think we're too lean; we are effective. I don't believe any programming decision we made as a radio division has been shortsighted or driven by the bottom line. We went through a significant restructuring of the business model. We had to take that into account. It's a different world we live in. With all the new competition and platforms, obviously radio needed to be restructured in terms of that approach.
Our company has seen the benefits over the last 12 months of many iniatives that have increased audience and revenue. I don't think the phrase, "working lean," has to have the connotation of being negative. I don't look at it as a negative - more of a natural and essential restructuring of business. I mean, how old is radio ... 90, 100 years? Any industry with that many years under its belt has to go through phases of restructuring and reorganization. In some ways, radio is no different than any other business model.
Radio still has a sizzle and it still has its traditional appeal. Every day our world-class talent get up and do a great radio show for CBS Radio -- Nick Cannon, Carson Daly and Ryan Cameron are just a few. These are personalities who create a sizzle in their local markets. We don't look at our radio properties as just a utility; the names might have changed from the stars of yesteryear, but our new personalities are still close to the community ... and that makes a difference.
Have you set new personal goals for yourself?
The minute anyone thinks they've achieve all they wanted in life is the minute it all goes downhill. I've been blessed to work for a great company with great leadership in the form of programmers like Greg Strassell, Kevin Weatherly and Scott Herman. Dan Mason is our CEO, but he is, organically, a programmer at heart. To work with that caliber of people is a blessing.
I clearly have more to learn and grow. I believe things are significantly brighter for the radio industry than the general media thinks it is. We know the truth about radio; we just have to find a better way to communicate that. Once we do that over time, people will wake up and go "wow."