Leslie Moonves: CBS "Not in Active Discussions" to Merge With Viacom

Leslie Moonves - Getty - 2016
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The CBS Corp. CEO also revealed that the company has had discussions with Hulu about joining its upcoming live TV service.

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves shot down the notion of merging with Viacom during an investor conference on Thursday morning.

Since Shari Redstone took over the embattled Viacom, there has been talk that the two companies, once corporate siblings and the two foundations of Sumner Redstone's National Amusements, would reunite. But Moonves, speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch annual Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills, said that's unlikely to happen. 

"Truth of the matter is that we are a stand-alone public company. We are really happy with the hand we are playing. We're doing extraordinarily well on our own with our own assets," he said. "We're never going to do something that is bad for CBS shareholders or employees. We're not in active discussions for anything like that. We're very happy with the position we're playing now, and we think we have a great future as the CBS Corporation." 

Moonves sat down for the lengthy Q&A session in a strong position, boasting about a solid upfront season for the company. "We just had our best upfront, I think, in like a decade," he bragged. But the exec also spent a lot of time talking about how the entertainment company is preparing for the future of television.

Moonves noted that CBS talks "to everybody" when it comes to distribution, whether over the airwaves or broadband. That includes Hulu, which is currently prepping a live TV service. He revealed that the company has "had conversations" with Hulu about joining its forthcoming service — notable given that CBS is the only one of the big four broadcasters that doesn't own a stake in Hulu and the network has been reticent to strike deals with the streamer in the past. 

"We think no one could exist fully without CBS," said Moonves. "How do you do a bundle and say, 'Yeah, we're really good, but we don't have Thursday Night Football and the two highest-rated shows.' We just want to get paid the right price. I assume everybody putting out the bundle will want us on their service desperately because without CBS, you don't have a real service." 

On the subject of CBS' stand-alone streaming services, Moonves remained optimistic. He noted that the two services have a combined 2 million subscribers, about 1 million for each, and said he expects that number to grow to 4 million by 2020, spurred on by the addition of original programming to CBS All Access. Although the streaming service's most high-profile show, Star Trek: Discovery, is being delayed until May, Moonves says it's nothing to worry about. 

"The producers came into my office last week and begged me. They said, 'We are creating an entire universe. You know how fanatical the Star Trek fans are. We need a couple more months to get the effects right, to get the world right. Please let us have until May,'" related Moonves. "With Star Trek, which is the family jewels, I'd rather it be a few months late and great than early and not great." 

One thing that CBS All Access lacks is live streaming of the network's NFL package, but that could change soon. Moonves said the company is in talks with the league about obtaining streaming rights, noting, "I anticipate us being able to make a deal with the NFL. They know our desire to get it on our service, and we think a deal will happen in the not-too-distant future." 

He also highlighted that CBS' focus is on expanding the content the company is producing. "We are primarily a content company now," said Moonves, adding that CBS Studios has shows for a variety of platforms, including a recent deal to bring its Carpool Karaoke spinoff to Apple Music. "I love the fact that we do all levels of content, and I want that to expand."