Blog Post

Interview: Larry Kramer, President, CBS Digital

[Staci D. Kramer] Larry Kramer and I had a hard time connecting long enough to do an interview the day the new CBS News digital strategy was announced. We gave it another try Tuesday in his temporary San Francisco office; he and a small SF-based staff are sharing space with CBS o-and-o KPIX until Marketwatch, now owned by Dow Jones, vacates its nearby offices and he can move back in. It isn’t easy in person either to get linear time with Kramer (no relation) while phones ring and e-mail pops on the screen. Even in a temp office crowded with boxes, he’s in his element — shopping budget proposals to Leslie Moonves, president of CBS; launching new online features; hiring; talking about ad campaigns (not all in front of me, of course).
Before we met Tuesday, CBS Sportsline launched a new home page (an updated version including the EyeBox video/ad player is slated for fall and football) while CBS Digital announced text messaging and voting for “Big Brother 6.” CBS Digital also is producing fantasy football games for affiliates.
The audio (mp3, 26M) runs roughly 27 minutes.
Some excerpts:
Acquisitions: When I brought up Fox Interactive’s interest in acquisitions, Kramer said CBS Digital was interested “big time.” He explained, “We’re a big company with a lot of cash so we’re going to be looking at what helps us get scale in digital media faster. It has to be things that are consistent with what we do; we’re not just going to go out there and buy something that’s totally inconsistent. We sell entertainment, sports, news — all of those things occur on the web. There are other people who do sort of those things on the web. Community is important to us. … I think we’ll look at everything. Traffic is good. If we can acquire valuable traffic that we can monetize better than someone else can, it’s worth more to us.” Asked about a San Francisco company reported to be on the block that might fit some of those needs — CNET — Kramer laughed and said he wasn’t getting into M&A. He added a little later, “We have a lot of assets on this side we still need to build up on.”

Distribution: Someone asked me after ABC News and CNN signed with Yahoo what CBS was going to do for distribution. (I’ve heard from multiple sources that a Yahoo-CBS deal is being discussed.)I asked Kramer, who mentioned the Comcast distribution deal and negotiations for news and sports content distribution on other sites. “We wouldn’t give it away — we don’t need to — but we will either sell it or trade distribution for our own distribution. … I don’t think there’s anything we’re not looking at.”

Portals as competitors: Kramer sees the mega-portals as competitors for ad dollars but says that won’t stop deals. “They were competitors at MarketWatch, too, and we did deals with all of them. It doesn’t mean you don’t do deals. We’re still in the infancy of this medium; they’re players for different reasons than we are. … We’re going to create a lot more content.”
Working for CBS and Viacom instead of running the show: He doesn’t sound delusional when he says it’s easier; escaping Sarbanes-Oxely can do that to you. “For me, it’s a simpler focus; the ability to do what I was doing at MarketWatch here has a wonderful thing for me … Traditional media coming to the web is what I was doing at MarketWatch and we proved our success by selling for a huge amount of money to a traditional media company which needed to get to the web. We’re doing the same thing here. … You need the support of the top guy, which I have from Leslie. You need to create an entrepreneurial environment within a company; that’s why we rolled these things together.”

Wireless: Like his colleagues across the industry, Kramer sees major potential in mobile content. He wouldn’t rule out an MVNO. “The issue of who’s going to be in control of the wireless space is not a clear one yet. It’s not like cable TV was … that field is wide open. The key thing is if you own the content, you’re agnostic. … in the end, they need the content. That’s been the issue with the portals, as well. They’re trying to create content but, in the end, that’s a very expensive proposition they’re not getting into in a big way.”