CBS' Les Moonves: "Overnight Ratings Are Virtually Irrelevant Now"

Les Moonves

CBS is "monetizing the majority" of the audience that tunes in to an episode a few days after it airs, the exec said

"Overnight ratings are virtually irrelevant now," CBS CEO Les Moonves said Wednesday.

Moonves said Elementary offers evidence for his assertion, since the show draws about 9 million viewers per episode when first aired but CBS gets paid for 14 million because about 5 million people watch episodes several days later.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs 23rd Annual Communacopia Conference in New York, the head of the CBS television network lobbied for the Nielsen rating service to create "C-Infinity," whereby a show's viewership is counted months and years beyond its original air date, as opposed to three or seven days, as is the case now.

"Overnight is almost meaningless," he said.

Moonves praised Nielsen for strides with C7 and C3, and he said CBS is "monetizing the majority" of the audience that tunes in to an episode a few days after it airs.

The CEO, though, warned that there is a danger in allowing digital services to offer too much "binge" viewing of TV shows.

"At what point do we start cannibalizing what we're doing," he asked. "I know that stacking is a very exciting thing and bingeing is the new hot term ... it has not become the be-all and the end-all ... it's a very cool thing to do. I get it. But, we want to be very careful. You know, our bread and butter is still television advertising. That's where it begins and then we sell it to all these other places. So by putting on a lot more episodes, it might hurt us."

He also called Netflix "a competitor with Showtime" as well as a longtime CBS customer.

"They're doing some high-quality, original programming, which is really good. House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black are terrific television shows," Moonves said.

He also lauded the digital services for helping to make year-round programming a viable possibility.

"The summer marketplace didn't exist before Netflix and Amazon came into play and provided a lot of money. It was also helped by the great growth in the international marketplace," the exec said, which made CBS summer shows profitable even before they aired.

Moonves also said that that nearly 75 percent of its advertising was sold out during upfronts, down a few percentage points from a year earlier, but that ad rates were up and he expects the scatter market will be strong for CBS, despite the glut of inventory.

"There will be winners and losers. … We're going to be just fine. There will be other guys who are going to be sucking wind," he said.

Moonves joked that he expects a "desperate movie producer" whose film isn't tracking well to pay "twice the price" to advertise on CBS' Thursday Night Football at the last minute.

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