Shareholders add to CBS troubles

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The Independent Online
The troubles at CBS are intensifying, as a protest by one of the US network's biggest shareholders coincided last week with a highly publicised shake-up on its flagship news programme and the unveiling of an autumn schedule which was widely seen as a panic attempt to win back defecting viewers.

The events are the latest episodes in the long-running controversy over the performance of CBS, in which a controlling stake was acquired by New York tycoon Laurence Tisch in 1986.

Mr Tisch has been the subject of routine sniping within the entertainment industry, but the first signs of revolt among CBS shareholders may be more serious.

Mr Tisch likes to counter criticism by pointing to the stock's steady rise over the past three years.

But some industry observers counter that this reflects a belief that CBS is an acquisition target, with hopes pinned on potential buyers such as Ted Turner's Turner Broadcasting System. Investors are waiting for Mr Tisch to depart, not giving him a vote of confidence, his detractors say.

Shareholder dissatisfaction came out into the open, with the ackowledgement last week by Capital Group Companies that it refused to vote its stake alongside management when directors came up for re-election.

Capital Group's anger follows a sharp decline in ratings at CBS, which topped the list in prime time for the 1993-94 season, but fell to third place during 1994-1995.

Making up lost ground in prime time is critical to CBS, but last Thursday's unveiling of the autumn TV schedules was widely seen as a rather desperate bid to win back lost ground especially among the younger viewers most sought after by advertisers.

Falling ratings for its news programming are also a concern.