CBS Eyes Double-Digit Upfront Ad Rate Gains

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves also discusses Netflix and retransmission fees at an investor conference.


NEW YORK -- CBS is looking for double-digit advertising rate increases in this spring's upfront advertising sales season, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves said Monday.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media & Telecom Conference in Palm Beach, Fla. in a session that was available via Webcast, Moonves said "we need substantial increases." He pointed to what he said were 40 percent gains in the January scatter market, which sees the sale of remaining current ad inventory.

If marketers don't seem willing to pay double-digit price increases, "we'll sell it all in scatter," Moonves said about CBS's upfront strategy.

He did, however, also acknowledge that most ad price talk ahead of the May upfront presentations of broadcast networks' fall TV schedules tends to be part of the annual positioning and posturing of media buyers and networks.

Moonves reiterated that the CBS primetime schedule is so strong that it doesn't have many open slots for the fall. "I wish we had another network to program," he said, pointing out that regulatory rules only allow companies to own one major network.

The CBS Corp. boss didn't get a question on Charlie Sheen and Two and a Half Men after it became clear early on that he didn't want to discuss the topic after commenting on it at another investor conference last week. The analyst who interviewed him joked about whether CBS has ever successfully changed out a lead actor in a major show. After Moonves didn't start talking, the analyst quipped: "I promised no Charlie Sheen questions." The CBS boss last week had said he would like to get the show back, but his company isn't suffering financially from the end of production for at least this season.

Moonves on Monday once again got a question about a recent deal that CBS struck with Netflix's streaming video service for some of its library content. Moonves said it covered only about 7 percent of the CBS library and said there could be additional deals with Netflix and other online distributors in the future.

For example, he said that CSI will have to leave the CBS schedule some time -- maybe in a few years. And even though he hates the idea of ending the hit show one day, CBS could talk to Netflix then about putting it on the Netflix service and getting "more value" because it will be a fresher show for the service.

Discussing CBS News, Moonves said the news division makes some profit, although not much, but he is looking for improvements over time.

Asked about the CBS target of getting $250 million in retransmission revenue from TV distributors in 2012, Moonves once again signalled there could be upside. "That's probably conservative," he said. And he once again touted the value of CBS content, saying the company remains "vastly underpaid" in terms of retrans dollars. He also repeated a calculation that CBS Corp. management made at a recent investor event that concluded retrans fees per broadcast network could be worth around $2.5 billion if the networks got their fair share, with Moonves adding that the ratings strength of CBS should likely fetch it more than its peers.

Moonves on Monday also said that he likes that News Corp. president, COO and deputy chairman Chase Carey has led the retrans charge and pushed the need for retrans payments more aggressively than others. "We like that," Moonves said, quipping that this allows him to come into talks with distributors and be the nice guy.