CBS' Moonves sees strong year for network

Cites end of writers strike, new series as indicators

NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves sees no major advertising hit from the turmoil that the financial services industry has been embroiled in.

"Financials are down (ad-wise), but not as much as auto," he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference here Wednesday.

He also said he has read up on financial services giants and found that Bank of America is a bigger TV ad buyer than Lehman Bros., parts of which are being sold to Barclays, and Merrill Lynch, which BofA is acquiring.

"It's a good week for us -- just kidding," Moonves quipped, drawing chuckles among the Wall Street crowd. Overall, the scatter ad market at the CBS network is "holding up well," Moonves said.

He predicted the network would have a "stronger year than last year," citing new shows, including "The Mentalist." Last season, the writers strike lowered CBS' costs, but also cut down the number of fresh episodes of shows it could use, Moonves said.

Moonves told the Goldman crowd he followed the Olympics and, for a change, rooted for NBC as the event showcased the power of broadcast TV. Asked if he would like to bring the Olympics to CBS in the future, he said he will look at the possibility, but last time a deal didn't make financial sense for his firm.

Asked about his longer-term outlook for CBS, he said he remains bullish about the company.
"We're vastly undervalued," he said of CBS' shares, echoing a theme that fellow sector heavyweights like News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes had sounded. "We're so prepared when the economy turns."

Asked about retransmission agreement talks with key distributors, Moonves said negotiations with Cablevision Systems and Dish have started. He called them "good talks," adding there have been no threats by those business partners to yank CBS off the air. But should anyone get any funny ideas, Moonves feels in a strong position. "We got very good programming on in January and February," he said.