Les Moonves Eyes 'Huge Numbers' for 'Two and a Half Men' Fall Premiere

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The CBS CEO says new star Ashton Kutcher could draw AFC championship-type ratings, emphasizes the network is looking for big upfront ad price increases and says "we love Netflix."

NEW YORK - CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves said Thursday that he has heard talk of "huge numbers," even "AFC championship- type" ratings for this fall's Two and a Half Men season premiere with new star Ashton Kutcher.

Appearing at the Nomura U.S. Media Summit here, he also signaled that CBS is looking for upfront advertising rate gains in the mid double digit percentage range in current negotiations with marketers, even though Fox is believed to have struck its upfront deals for around 10 percent rate increases. A source confirmed a report by Advertising Age that CBS has asked for price increases of around 18 percent in its initial upfront requests.

Moonves on Thursday also once again called Netflix a friend, reiterated his company's lack of interest in a deal with Hulu and his suspicion that some of Hulu's owners would want to back out, touted the growing retransmission consent fees that his company is booking and explained why CBS isn't bidding for the Olympics.

Discussing the CBS fall schedule, Moonves touted a steady schedule with few additions, predicting, "we're going to have a fun fall." He also suggested that CBS can be so choosy about which shows to add that its rejected series pilots are better than some of the shows picked up by other networks.

Asked about the state of CBS upfront advertising negotiations, Moonves said, "right now we're in the dance with advertisers," and the network expects "very strong double digit" ad price growth and higher sales volume in the upfront. "It's a good time to be us," he said.

Moonves said that scatter ad prices that have in some cases been up 40 percent over last year's upfront has dealt his network an "ideal hand" as his sales team can tell marketers that they can pay that much more after this year's upfront if they don't want to pay up now. He later said his team is looking for upfront price hikes in the mid-double digit percentage range. He emphasized that CBS is not pricing off Fox, which is believed to have earned price increases of around 10 percent or slightly higher, saying every network has its strategy with Fox selling fewer primetime hours and having to sell new show X Factor this year. An analyst earlier in the week had wondered if the Fox price gains would limit the price increases CBS and others can fetch in their upfront negotiations.
Moonves also confirmed that CBS won't bid for the Olympics next week. "It's not going to be a cost-effective thing for us," he said. Quipping that he won't get to go to Switzerland like other big media CEOs, Moonves said CBS likes its current sports profile.

Asked about Netflix, Moonves reiterated that CBS views it as much more a friend than a foe. "We love Netflix," he said and repeated a previous comment: "They are not the anti-Christ."

While Netflix is exploring original productions, that will not be so easy, he argued.

CBS never wanted to do a deal with Hulu, because it would have been like "giving away the family jewels for nothing," Moonves reiterated. And he quipped, echoing similar comments in the past, that he guesses that two of Hulu's three media company owners - Disney, News Corp. and NBCUniversal - would likely want check out if they could.

Moonves also once again affirmed that CBS Corp. will hit or exceed $250 million in retransmission consent fees in 2012, or more when including reverse compensation from stations. The company's previously stated target of $1 billion from those new revenue streams in 2017 may prove to be "a very conservative number," he added.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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