CBS eyes retrans fees, upfronts

Moonves again touts revenue potential from cablers

CBS Corp. could bring in by 2010 close to $250 million in annual revenue from retransmission fees paid by cable operators for its CBS network, president and CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday at an investor conference.

He also said that this year's broadcast upfront is "rolling out slower" than in the past and added that it might take "the entire month of June to get done or even longer."

In negotiations between networks and media buyers over what kind of ratings data to use, Moonves told attendees of the Deutsche Bank Securities Media & Telecommunications Conference here that, as reported, live ratings plus three-day viewing via DVRs seems to be emerging as the "most likely settlement" (HR 6/4).

Asked whether that approach is close to live ratings figures, Moonves said "it comes out to around zero" given that network commercial viewing is down a bit, made up for by DVR viewing.

The CBS CEO didn't want to specify what kind of ad-rate increases his network is seeking in the upfront negotiations. But when pressed about whether his silence meant that CBS was in line with the high-single-digit rate increases that the networks reportedly are seeking, he quipped, "low double digits."

Moonves has been adamant about charging TV distributors retransmission fees and in the past has mentioned the potential for hundreds of millions in revenue. CBS so far has struck deals with several smaller cable firms since voicing this strategy but hasn't disclosed financial details.

Asked whether down the line CBS could charge retransmission fees for all CBS affiliates among TV stations, Moonves signaled that it wasn't in the works, but he wouldn't rule it out.

Overall, he lauded CBS affiliates for helping the network pay for NFL and NCAA broadcasts and said there have been talks about making them work more closely with CBS on Web offerings.

Asked whether CBS Corp. could go private like other media companies have done of late, the CEO said it would be up to controlling shareholder and chairman Sumner Redstone.

"I'm in good shape," he said, pointing out the strength of CBS shares, in a reference to Redstone's past firing of top executives like former Viacom Inc. CEO Tom Freston.

Moonves also echoed Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman's comments from Monday that the companies don't compete with each other much and don't have jealousy issues. "Philippe's a great guy, and Viacom is a great company," Moonves said. "We are rooting for them."

The CBS Corp. CEO also said Tuesday that "the financial picture at Showtime is very, very bright" and that he is "seeing a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel" for his firm's radio unit.

Recently appointed CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason already has made significant changes in radio formats, organization and other areas, Moonves said. "I feel much better" since Mason's return, he said.

As far as the future use of CBS' cash war chest goes, the CEO said his board is considering further dividend increases, additional stock buybacks and potential deals in the digital space.
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