Les Moonves Declares DVR Viewing Should Be Counted 'Equally' in Ratings Measurements

2012-37 REP Leslie Moonves P

The CBS Corp. CEO, who earned about $70 million in salary and bonuses in 2011, signs a rich contract extension to stay on through 2017.

The CBS chief hinted at aggressive negotiations with Time Warner Cable and addressed online distribution strategy at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom conference.

CBS chief executive Les Moonves lobbied for online and DVR viewing to be counted “equally” to live viewing when it comes to Nielsen’s measurement of audiences. As things stand now, advertisers pay in full if a show is watched live or within three days on DVR, and Moonves predicted that within a year, full payment will come for viewers who watch up to seven days after a show airs live.

“I still look at overnight ratings every day of my life at 5:30 in the morning, 365 days a year, and it does give you an indication of what’s doing well and what’s not,” he said. “But we hit a tipping point this year, which is why in the fall numbers were tough to read … Some of our hit programs literally are only watched 60 percent now live.”

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While most of the remaining 40 percent comes by way of DVR viewing, some comes from online, as well, he said.

“We have over 10 shows that add 3-4 million that are watched after the live viewing of it,” he added. “All we want is a fair measurement. We want Nielsen to measure everybody, and, ultimately, we want an eyeball to count as an eyeball.”

Moonves, speaking at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom conference in Palm Beach, Fla., also said that CBS stock is undervalued.

“We told you four years ago when we were at $4 a share we’re going up,” he said. “We’re at $44 now, and we’re going up.”

CBS closed 23 cents higher at $43.78 on Monday.

The CEO also joked that the power outage at the Superdome in New Orleans was a ploy of his to keep viewers tuned in as the Baltimore Ravens were dismantling the San Francisco 49ers.

“The game at that point had gotten a little out of hand, and we said, ‘Viewers may be leaving us, so what can we do?’ And you know what happened, we got some extra spots in during the 34-minute blackout, the game got closer, ratings went back up and it was a wildly successful plan,” Moonves explained.

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Moonves also gave a shout-out to The Bible, a miniseries from his friend Mark Burnett that is airing on The History Channel and premiered huge on Sunday.

“I like his branding. He called it, ‘Mark Burnett’s The Bible,’ which, if you know Mark, it’s not far from the truth,” Moonves joked.

He predicted “bigger and bigger” retransmission fees and joked that CBS deserves $20 a household, considering ESPN gets about $5.50 per subscriber.

He hinted at aggressive negotiations to get more money from Time Warner Cable later this year, but then added there wouldn’t be a disruption in service: “We view these people as our partner. We haven’t gone dark -- we don’t intend to go dark. You know, we’re very reasonable people.”

Showtime, too, he said, is a network that cable companies “can’t live without,” with the likes of Homeland and Dexter on the schedule.

Moonves also acknowledged that they’re still in search of a hit TV show to air on CBS Mondays at 8:30 p.m., and he said that some shows on the network are “a little old,” though he didn’t name names.

And during a quick discussion of CBS Films, which makes and acquires theatrical releases that do not cost the company more than $35 million each, he also gave a good-natured dig to Disney and Warner Bros.

“So far, we’re doing okay. You’re not gonna see us do Jack the Giant Slayer or John Carter. You’re not gonna see those come out of our film division,” he said. “We’re just a little guy trying to produce content. So, you know, investors need not worry that we’re gonna go crazy and suddenly do $200 million pictures."

He said he intends on taking it slow when it comes to online distribution, which is why CBS didn’t join Hulu and usually only licenses old shows to Netflix.

“We make billions and billions of dollars in revenue from selling our first-run network content. We’re not gonna risk that for $25 million from Netflix,” he said.