CBS' Leslie Moonves Jokes About Angus T. Jones Controversy

Leslie Moonves

UPDATED: At an investor conference, he talks about the "Two and a Half Men" actor's video rant, fall TV ratings, Netflix and retransmission fees.

NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves on Tuesday again touted his company's growing retransmission-fee revenue and new licensing money from Netflix, while arguing that weaker ratings for the new TV season are due mostly to special factors and measurement systems that don't fully capture audiences on new platforms.

Speaking at the 40th UBS Global Media and Communications Conference here, he also joked about Two and a Half Men actor Angus T. Jones' recent rant. As part of a broader discussion of the company's management of costs and its network, he mentioned "that kid on Two and a Half Men who makes $300,000 per episode to talk bad about me."

The actor had said Christians should "please stop watching" watch his show because it is filth.”

Moonves later said he continues to like the Simon & Schuster book unit, which some believe could be looking at merger. The exec lauded its digital transformation and its financial success before quipping that it is also a prestigious but low-profile business. "I don't have any kids calling me filthy in the publishing [space]," he joked in another reference to the Jones controversy.

At a breakfast event earlier Tuesday, Moonves was asked if Jones’ apology would be good enough to keep him on the show. “I don’t know what our status is with him,” Moonves replied, according to Forbes. “I don’t think it’s been quite resolved, but after going through what we went through with Charlie Sheen, it’s been a piece of cake."

Moonves added: “It seems to be what happens with child stars over time. We took this boy who started with us when he was 8 years old. Now’s he’s making over $300,000 per week, which is not a bad salary for a 19-year-old kid. By the way, he’s still collecting his $300,000 per week."

Back at the UBS conference, Moonves was asked about Monday comments from Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt that his pay TV giant would drop weaker-performing TV networks or move them to lower carriage tiers. Moonves said that this must mean Britt would pay more for channels that do get viewed. Distributors "should pay more for the No. 1 network," he said. "You should pay for the eyeballs."

Highlighting that ESPN gets $4-plus per subscriber per month in fees, Moonves quipped that "we're going in next year for $7" with CBS. He declined comment on the continued bundling of cable networks in pay TV carriage deals. Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes earlier in the day had defended bundling.  

Discussing the weaker start to the fall TV season, Moonves said Nielsen needs to improve its measurement of viewing on new platforms. "A lot of streaming, VOD and SVOD is not reported properly," he said, predicting that within a year and a half ratings measurements and discussions will switch to audience data that includes the first seven days of viewing.

While he said he gets up at 5 a.m. every day and looks at the overnight ratings, those are less and less significant, Moonves said. Asked about the reasons for the weaker TV ratings so far this season, he called them "a bit of an aberration."

The DVR is much more significant than ever before," he said, and VOD and new online options for viewing add eyeballs over time. New CBS drama 
Elementary, for example, only gets about 60 percent of its viewership from the live audience.

He also cited the political debates and elections and new Thursday night football broadcasts on the NFL Network as key drivers of the lower ratings.

Moonves on Tuesday also reiterated that by 2017, his company will bring in more than $1 billion in retransmission revenue. He lauded that along with new digital revenue streams from the likes of Netflix and Amazon as key drivers of his company's more diversified revenue.

Moonves once again lauded CBS' content deal with Netflix, signaling that it was likely to extend it beyond its second year. With CSI in its 12th season and winning its time slot, the network could consider making all other 11 seasons available on Netflix if usage data shows that this would make sense, he said.


Twitter: @georgszalai