Les Moonves: Steve Jobs Approached CBS for Apple TV Content

2:15 PM PST 03/10/2012 by Matthew Belloni
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Les Moonves

The CBS CEO spoke at the UCLA Entertainment Symposium on Saturday, which also included a panel on negotiating talent deals.

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves said Saturday that he was approached about a year ago by Steve Jobs to provide content for Apple's long-rumored television service but he declined to participate.

Moonves told a conference audience that he met with Jobs, the late Apple CEO, and heard a pitch for what was billed as a subscription content service, but ultimately he said he wasn't interested in providing CBS shows or films to the venture.

"I told Steve, 'You know more than me about 99 percent of things but I know more about the television business,' " Moonves said, citing his concerns about providing content to a service that could disrupt CBS' existing revenue streams. Moonves said Jobs, in characteristic fashion, strongly disagreed with his assessment.

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Moonves' comments came during the keynote address at the UCLA Entertainment Symposium, hosted Friday and Saturday by the UCLA law school.

Moonves sat for an extended conversation with entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren in front of about 300 showbiz lawyers and executives.

Despite his skepticism over Apple TV, Moonves was bullish on digital dealmaking. He specifically cited the benefits of CBS content deals with Netflix (which he called a "friend") and Amazon, as well as the value of pacts with Hulu and Netflix for The CW network, co-owned by CBS and Time Warner. 

"That's what changed the CW from being a losing proposition to being a (money maker)," Moonves said.

Ziffren congratulated Moonves for CBS stock hitting a 52-week high on Friday before asking him to assess the various CBS divisions.

Moonves attributed the CBS success to the recovery of the ad market as well as new revenue streams that didn't exist three years ago: Retransmission fees from distributors, reverse compensation (payments to the network by non-owned affiliates) and the rise of such subscription companies as Netflix and Amazon, which are paying hundreds of millions of dollars for library content.

Moonves also praised Showtime for growing its subscriber base from 13 million to 22 million in the past 5 years thanks to its original programming strategy. "We're now talked about as an equal to HBO," Moonves said, citing such hits as Dexter and Homeland, which he called "the hottest show in America." 

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Moonves said he was bullish on political advertising from Super- PACs fueling the bottom line at CBS-owned stations.

"It may be bad for America but it's good for CBS," Moonves joked.

The annual two-day symposium, one of the country's largest gatherings of entertainment lawyers, featured panels on such topics as emerging distribution technologies and social media and copyright terminations. 

A Saturday morning panel on negotiating talent deals led to an interesting exchange between a top CAA executive and a Paramount business affairs head.

In response to CAA motion picture business affairs attorney Shelly Sroloff's friendly complaints about the decreasing frequency of first-dollar gross deals for big stars, Paramount executive vp business affairs Paul Neinstein acknowledged the power shift from talent to studios that has occurred over the past few years. 

"It's a dance. You guys used to lead, and now we've led a little bit," Neinstein told Sroloff, drawing laughter from the audience. 

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The symposium had a scary moment early Saturday when Bonnie Eskenazi, an entertainment litigator participating in a panel on copyright terminations, fainted on stage. Eskenazi was revived and is said to be OK.

During Moonves' chat, Ziffren asked him to reveal his favorite TV shows. He cited as his favorite comedy the 20th Television-produced Modern Family, which airs on ABC.

"I shouldn't say that. I'm going to hear from Chuck Lorre," he joked of the co-creator of three top-rated CBS comedies.

Moonves said Homeland and The Good Wife are his favorite dramas (both CBS-produced).

Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com
Twitter: @THRMattBelloni

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