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CBS Corp. CEO Upbeat on Fall TV Season, New DirecTV Retrans Deal

WITNESS LIST: Leslie Moonves
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Leslie Moonves tells a conference that NBC will become more competitive, but says "we're anticipating a very strong season for CBS."

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves on Thursday expressed confidence that CBS will have a strong new season, highlighting that ratings in total viewers for the season debut of Survivor beat Fox's X Factor Wednesday night.

"It is too soon to tell, but old, tired Survivor last night beat X Factor" in total viewers, he told the 21st annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York. "We're really proud of that." X Factor continued to win the audience showdown in the demo of 18-49 year olds that advertisers focus on.

Added Moonves: "We're anticipating a very strong season for CBS." He later said: "I'd bet on us." The session was webcast.

Asked about the competition from NBC and its shows, Moonves said "the NBC group is better than the last NBC group. They will be more competitive." But he also emphasized that it takes a long time to turn around the NBC show schedule.

He quipped that when he came to CBS, he also thought he could "throw two new shows on the air" and turn things around. "It wasn't quite so easy," said Moonves. "I feel really confident."

Overall, Moonves said he remains bullish on CBS. "We are the least sexy network, we get less buzz," he quipped. "All we do is get more viewers and more money."

Moonves also said Thursday that CBS is currently in retransmission consent fee talks with satellite TV giant DirecTV. "That's going very well, we think," he said, explaining that DirecTV is the last deal that was struck at the time when CBS was still part of Viacom.

Asked if CBS was interested in new sports rights, he said "not really." He confirmed that "we were asked" to bid for baseball rights, but added that Turner and Fox seem like they will keep those. "We are happy with our sports profile" and it is profitable, Moonves said. Even before including any retransmission consent fees, he said all of CBS's sports are profitable purely based on advertising revenue.

He acknowledged that having NFL games on CBS helps in such retrans fee talks like recent ones with Cablevision Systems. He quipped that he could tell Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan that his home team the New York Jets had a season opener on CBS that Cablevision subscribers would hate to miss.

So far, U.S. scatter advertising market trends are looking stronger in the fourth quarter than the third, but buyers are waiting to see how season is shaking out.

Asked about the economic weakness in Europe, he said CBS Corp. is making more revenue from selling content to channels there than from advertising. "The economy has not affected their ability to buy our content," Moonves said.

He also touted continued international growth. CBS Corp. has seen 10 percent-20 percent revenue growth in international in recent years to the point where international contributes more than $1 billion in revenue, he said.

Asked what content is doing well for CBS on Netflix, Moonves cited Star Trek. He also quipped that the company's continued ability to sell I Love Lucy, which he said still makes $20 million for the company, decades after that show aired means that "in a few years, some other idiot" would sit in his chair and sell current shows.

"We are not in that risk business," Moonves emphasized in reiterating that CBS Corp. isn't willing to give its content to some digital players unwilling to pay high enough amounts.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai