Television’s biggest cheerleader Leslie Moonves was at it again Thursday.
The CBS Corp. chief executive sat down for the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s newsmaker luncheon series at the Beverly Hilton, where he spent much of the hour beating the broadcast drum.
“I think the broadcast model is better now than it was five years ago because there are all of these places to take your content,” he said, acknowledging that he’s been listening to the “networks are dying” rants for as long as he’s been in the business. As he sees it, technology has been a friend to the content business. “It’s a good thing for content providers.”
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What’s more, he said, “broadcast advertising is strong,” which his company has long been more dependant on care of its limited cable portfolio, with a windfall expected to come from the 2012 election. “Sometimes the amount of contention going on in Washington is a very good thing for our business.”
True to form, Moonves used the HRTS platform to defend what many have dubbed the “CBS formula,” an older skewing array of high-performing procedurals. He blasted the press for calling the 18 to 49 demographic the “only” one advertisers are interested in reaching. In making his case, he pointed to a “very profitable” CBS show like Blue Bloods, which he said CBS sells based on a 25 to 54 demo or in some cases total viewers.
What he’d like to have more of, of course, is sports. But without the sub fees that a cable rival like ESPN can derive, he recognizes that there’s slim chance of that happening — even with the $250 million retransmission fees expected to come in in the next year. “ESPN has a perfect model,” he said. “They paid $1.7 billion for one game a week,18 to 19 games a year. That’s a lot of money.”
Try as he might, the CBS honcho couldn’t sit up on stage for an hour without being hurled a few Charlie Sheen questions, which he managed to dodge with a handful of quips. “One thing you know from being in this business as long as I have is shit happens,” he said, adding: “It was unfortunate… I’m glad that it’s a chapter that’s closed. It just wasn’t fun. It’s no good when there’s rancor; it’s no good when you have lawyers involved in a TV show.”
Attempting to shift focus, he waxed on about the show’s recent ratings –up from last year, even without the early weeks– and the addition of Ashton Kutcher, who he was highly complimentary of “aside from his comments about Penn State.”
Moonves, a self-described “TV guy,” lacked the same enthusiasm for his film division, which has struggled to get off the ground. “I don’t think it was the wrong strategy; I think it was the wrong films,” he said, referring to its focus on mid-budget fare. He added of the five films, three of which he says broke even: “They aren’t movies that I’m proud of… none of them are going to be nominated for Academy Awards.”
The CBS chief was similarly realistic about the state of the network’s little-watched morning show, which announced yet another anchor shakeup earlier this week. “To do a poor imitation of the Today show or [Good Morning America] is not the way to go, so they’re going to do something different,” he says of a potentially very profitable day-part.
As for the evening news division, Moonves is pleased with Scott Pelley’s evening newscast, which has seen its ratings rise as a strategically harder bend in a post Katie Couric era. Still, he added, “the news division is never going to be a major profit center, but we wouldn’t be a network without it.”