When George Schweitzer became head of marketing for CBS in the early 1990s, it was the most watched television network. A quarter of a century later, CBS is still the most watched television network, thanks in large part to Schweitzer’s constant creativity, ingenuity and innovation, and especially his willingness to proactively utilize the very same media options that have been fragmenting consumer media choices in order to get them to keep choosing the one they watch the most.
It has not been an easy task. When Schweitzer assumed the role, CBS had the greatest promotional platform in the world in its own house, and spent a relative pittance promoting it off its own airwaves, mainly in things like TV Guide and newspaper listings. And while CBS’ on-air reach still is among the most powerful brand-building platforms in the world, Schweitzer’s vision has kept its reach and influence current as digital media has taken an increasing share of mind.
To be sure, CBS has been its own pioneer in digital media, pioneering early technologies such as audiotext, videotext, and one of the first and most influential commercial online services, Prodigy, and expect for a brief sabbatical on Madison Avenue -- running Young & Rubicam’s marketing and communications -- Schweitzer has focused on keeping CBS’ brands in front of American consumer’s eyes, ears, mouses and fingertips.
Schweitzer, who began his career handling publicity for seminal kids TV show, CBS’ “Captain Kangaroo,” rose to become its producer, before becoming head of communications for all of CBS, and a key player in the development of its marketing strategy. Schweitzer was a pioneer of the concept of network branding and famously did battle with his NBC rival Alan Cohen during the 80s and 90s, leveraging everything from consumer brands, and giant retailers to new and emerging media technologies to partner and extend the CBS brand -- and importantly, the shows it aired -- in front of the American public, during the greatest period of media fragmentation the marketplace has ever seen.
Schweitzer’s vision was evident to this reporter when, still in the pre-digital days of the early 1990s, he presented a marketing strategy showing the network’s competitive set, which included the fast-food chain McDonald’s. Asked how McDonald’s competed with CBS, Schweitzer pointed out that it was all about share of people’s time and attention, and that time they spent dining out in a McDonald’s restaurant was time they weren’t watching a CBS show.Today, consumers have many, many more options for their time and attention, but when it comes to network TV, more of them watch CBS than any other option, thanks in large part to how Schweitzer uses media to market to them.