CBS Chief Leslie Moonves Takes Shots at Disney, ESPN, Fox at Investor Conference

Leslie Moonves - H - 2016

Says Moonves, "I'm a sports fan, but when I turn on ESPN, I see people yelling at each other."

"When ESPN or Comcast announce they are losing subs, that is a good thing for us," said Leslie Moonves, chairman and president of CBS, at an investor conference in New York on Thursday.

In a colorful discussion at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Moonves said analysts should be distinguishing CBS from its peers. Stealing NBC's old catchphrase, Moonves boasted, "We are must-see TV," perhaps implying that the others are not.

According to Moonves, those abandoning expensive cable and satellite TV packages are not a concern because "cord-cutters aren't going into the woods and avoiding television; they're just going to other services."

Moonves also said CBS is part of every "important" skinny bundle package and that the network stands to make even more money. He pointed out that the network gets $2 a subscriber from traditional cable and satellite packages, $4 from so-called skinny bundle digital services and $6 from CBS All Access, the company's over-the-top service.

In a shot at Disney, which spent billions to acquire a majority stake in a streaming video platform, Moonves said CBS "didn't go to BAMTech for a zillion dollars. We did it ourselves."

And he targeted Disney subsidiary ESPN in hyping CBS' upcoming over-the-top service for sports.

"We think there is a place in the market for straight clips and scores," he said. "I'm a sports fan, but when I turn on ESPN, I see people yelling at each other."

Moonves said he thinks there's still room for growth in retransmission revenue. He pointed to ESPN getting $7 a subscriber and talked about how CBS was getting less, even though it was contributing to what he said was 10 percent of overall television viewership. "We're still underpaid," he emphasized.

Then again, he seemed happy with the broadcast business and directed zingers at everyone from Netflix (he suggested Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre wouldn't receive nearly as much backend profits from a Netflix show) to 21st Century Fox executive chairman Lachlan Murdoch.

On Wednesday, at the same conference, Murdoch identified FX, Fox News, Fox Sports, Nat Geo and Star TV Asia as Fox's core brands. The absence of Fox Broadcasting was conspicuous, but according to the company, inadvertent. (A spokesperson later told THR that Fox Broadcasting is certainly a core asset.)

"I heard them say it wasn't a core asset," said Moonves today. "We make a lot of money. Maybe they do not."