Moonves: Keep talks alive

'Hopeful, not optimistic' about strike

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that he hopes the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers will remain at the bargaining table as the writers strike enters its second month.

"I am hopeful; I'm not terribly optimistic," Moonves said during the UBS conference in New York. "Obviously we are quite far apart."

Moonves said it's important that "both sides stay in the room" to continue negotiations, which resumed Tuesday afternoon after a five-day break.

He said he believed at some point that there would be "a bright future" for digital revenue, a point made by many media moguls to Wall Street that the WGA had seized upon as a justification for their demands of a share of the online pie.

"That day is not here," Moonves said.

As for the strike impact on CBS, Moonves said the network was prepared for a strike and that it will not affect CBS financially in the near- to mid-term.

"The ratings probably won't be as high," Moonves said. "By the same token, costs will not be as high."

The strike comes at a time when the network TV business is strong even amid ratings declines. Moonves said CBS did not have a make-good problem and that the make-goods carried over from last year had been dealt with already. Scatter-inventory pricing is 35% above already higher upfront pricing, and he said that there was inventory for sale.

Moonves also said he isn't worried about CBS and its success rate in the new season.

Of the five new series on the Eye so far this season, Moonves said that two — "Moonlight" and "Big Bang Theory" — are likely to return. He said he'd take two out of five any day.

"That's Hall of Fame batting," Moonves said. He also didn't seem concerned about the high-profile failure of the musical "Viva Laughlin," which lasted two episodes.

"It was a Hail Mary pass," he said. "We took it. We'll continue to do that."

Moonves added, "We continue to feel very bullish about the network television business."

Meanwhile, CBS Radio is looking to complete a turnaround next year.

"I am for the first time in a while guardedly optimistic for the potential for growth in the radio business for 2008," Moonves said at the conference.

Similarly, CBS Radio CEO Mason promised in a separate sesession that "2008 will be better for CBS Radio." He cited rising ratings, "impressive" digital growth, a revenue-focused new leadership team and an aggressive push for political advertising as the key factors.

Meanwhile, the online streaming of radio content is already bringing in "serious revenue" as CBS Radio continues to change in the digital world, Moonves said.

Asked about the planned merger of satellite radio rival XM and Sirius, Mason said he was "totally unimpressed" when he found out that their combined reach will be only 6% of adults 18 and older.

Georg Szalai contributed to this report.
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