CBS Chief Leslie Moonves Takes Aim at Competitors Dubious Ratings Claims

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CBS CEO Leslie Moonves

Noting that CBS would be No. 1 even without the Super Bowl, the CBS CEO hits back: "Different people brag about statistics that they just made up last week."

CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves again used his opening remarks at the network’s annual pre-upfront press breakfast Wednesday to refute claims made by his competitors earlier in the week. Namely, that CBS’ ratings win this season rests on the fact that the network had the Super Bowl.

Noting that CBS would again finish the season as the most-watched and top-rated network among viewers 25-54 and 18-49, Moonves added: “Yes, the Super Bowl helped. But let me tell you a fact, without the Super Bowl, we still win. That’s a fact ladies and gentlemen. Look it up.”

To be sure, upfront week brings plenty of squishy data and dubious claims from network chiefs who bombard media buyers with pie charts, bar graphs and out-of-context data points. But if the proof is in the P&L, CBS has for several years taken the biggest haul in the upfront market; about $2.5 billion in commitments last season, down but still more than its competitors.

And this year, the network expects to unload close to 80 percent of its fall primetime inventory, compared with about 74 percent last year. (The networks are coming off of a robust scatter market where agencies that didn’t lock in advantageous pricing in the upfront were stuck paying a premium for ad time, sometimes as much as 30 percent more.)

Twisting the knife, Moonves noted the networks record profits in the first quarter and added: "Different people brag about statistics that they just made up last week. We are playing a very strong hand in the scatter market."

But he admitted that the quickly evolving content arena has made scheduling a linear TV network that much more challenging. 

“This has frankly been one of the most difficult scheduling years ever,” he said. “There are so many factors that weigh into our decisions now that frankly didn’t exist before: ownership, the digital marketplace, what’s happening with measurement.”

Like many of his network peers, Moonves also took aim at the lack of effectiveness of advertising on non-premium digital platforms. “We see money coming back to network, not that it ever left.” But when it comes to digital, he added, "The bloom is off the rose.”

If CBS had what was perceived as an out-of-the-box swing last year with Supergirl, which was championed by former entertainment chief Nina Tassler. (The CBS Television Studios-produced drama will move to sister net The CW next season.) This year, Tassler’s successor Glenn Geller stressed a new slate that will mine CBS’ stock-in-trade brand of broad, multicamera comedies (many with big stars including Kevin James and Matt LeBlanc), procedurals “with a distinct character at the center” (including the Dr. Phil-inspired Bull, the Jason Katims medical drama Pure Genius and reboot of MacGyver).

CBS will bow six new shows in the fall, a hefty slate for the traditionally stable network. And scheduling chief Kelly Kahl noted that the new slate is designed to help shore up the network’s time periods and also “get a little younger.”

And Kahl also stressed the consistent performance of the network's programs compared to competitors whose shows started strong in the fall but by spring had petered out, sometimes losing half of their ratings. He singled out NBC’s Blindspot and ABC’s Quantico as examples. And when asked why the network renewed the on-the-bubble medical drama Code Black, Kahl pointed out that it held its rating throughout the season and also gets a big bump — as much as 20 percent — once three days of viewing are factored in.

Keep up with all the renewals, cancellations and new series pickups with THR's handy scorecard and follow the pilot crop status here. For full upfronts 2016 coverage, go to