CBS Local and Why One Central Brand Just Tastes Better

The CBS Local sites have been among my favorite local web sites since their launch in 2010. In markets where CBS owns and operates multiple TV/radio stations, CBS wisely combined these separate on-air properties into one unified online site (http://boston.cbslocal.com, http://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com, http://newyork.cbslocal.com). The sites contains the local TV station for video content, a news radio station for live audio streaming, and a sports radio station for sports news and opinions. CBS Local is everything the local media consumer would need in a website — weather, traffic, sports.

CBS Local’s site technology and design choices are the most sensible that I’ve seen in local media.  CBS Local’s choice of a blog engine (WordPress VIP) as its CMS proves that a simple, manageable CMS (combined with a wealth of unique content, produced at a reasonable cost) is all that’s needed to run even the largest news web sites. The sites’ backgrounds evoke the cityscapes of their regions.  The blue-on-white color schemes are clean and bright.  Simple and beautiful.

The one obstacle with the new CBS Local sites is the branding. I was listening to WBZ 1030, CBS’ O&O news radio station, and I heard a promo for the network read as follows (paraphrasing): “Listen to WBZ, News Radio 1030, and on the web at CBSBoston.com.” In markets with long-lived CBS O&Os, the branding of the on-air property has value even without the CBS affiliation. WBZ is a Boston institution, and growing up in Pittsburgh, KDKA set the standard on radio and on TV. But does the typical radio listener make the connection between the local station’s call letters and the national CBS brand? It’s weird to hear two seemingly separate brands (WBZ and CBSBoston.com) promoted together. A company like FOX (with less established local brands) can promote all of its properties (local, national, radio, cable) with the FOX label without sacrificing the local connection, which makes its on-air promotion to online benefit all of those properties at once — wherever there’s a promo, the word “FOX” is present. CBS could benefit by doing the same.

CBS should rebrand its local stations with the main CBS name. WBZ should become “CBSBoston” and 98.5 should become “CBS Boston Sports.”  It can simplify the brand presence in each market from three or more separate brands (in Boston, “WBZ,” “98.5,” “CBSBoston.com”) into one brand.  The separate brands have value (especially established brands like WBZ and KDKA), but I’d wager that value is more for folks in media (like me) than for the average consumer. For new CBS O&O stations, the CBS brand would provide more value. When CBS re-launched WBZ-FM in Boston as a sports station, branding with “CBS Sports” or “CBS Boston Sports” would have garnered more immediate cachet than a separate brand of “98.5 The Sports Hub.” Ultimately, 98.5 would succeed anyway (like 93.7 in Pittsburgh), but CBS could have built up the brand’s immediate presence with a prominent “CBS” in the title.