Moonves: Advertising outlook improving

CBS Films eyeing 2011 release for 'Consent to Kill'

NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves once again touted the improving advertising momentum at his company here Tuesday.

" is so much better today for us than it was a year ago," which makes going to work more fun, he said at the annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference.

"There is definite light at the end of the tunnel...There are actually some plus signs at the end of the tunnel."

"I don't want be too exuberant," Moonves cautioned, later adding: "We are not back yet." But "we're looking forward to '10 with great excitement," he said.

Asked by reporters after his appearance about his expectations for the 2010 upfront, Moonves said it is still early, but he would be "surprised if (the result) is not a plus sign" compared to the 2009 upfront.

Every CBS Corp. unit is "in far, far better shape" these days, he added.

"The network is doing extremely well," with CBS scatter market ad sales up 25% in the fourth quarter over the upfront, according to Moonves. "We haven't seen such numbers in years," and CBS has continued to pull some of its own promos due to high demand.

The first quarter also looks "very strong," he added.

The Super Bowl is 90% sold out, with only five to six ad spots remaining, according to the CBS Corp. boss. Advertisers include traditional Super Bowl marketers plus some new players.

Local TV ad pacings have improved sequentially throughout recent quarters and are up when excluding political ads, Moonves said, predicting a better 2010.

And CBS Radio could finally see a year-over-year ad gain in the first quarter of 2010, he added.

The UBS gathering, which is the longest-running media conference on Wall Street, also saw Moonves call the Comcast-NBC Universal deal "pretty exciting."

He explained that Comcast executives have already signaled that "retransmission consent should be paid, and they are absolutely right." This will confirm the value of CBS's content and provide continued revenue upside opportunity, he added.

He also echoed comments from other sector executives at the UBS conference that the network and its affiliate stations will end up splitting retrans fees paid by distributors.

Moonves also quipped that Comcast-NBC Uni is the first big deal in a long time, but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts is likely hoping "it will come out a little better" than the AOL-Time Warner merger.

He predicted a close regulatory review, but lauded Comcast for having "a lot of smart guys" that should get the deal done.

Here are other highlights from Moonves' appearance:

-- He lauded Opray Winfrey and said his firm's syndication business will take a hit once she moves her show to her new Discovery channel. "I'm not happy Oprah is leaving," but he predicted there would be new opportunities.

-- Speaking of syndication: Moonves divulged that "NCIS: Los Angeles" is fetching $2.35 million per episode in its recent U.S. syndication deal, breaking the $1.95 million previous record for "CSI." Warner Bros. sold "The Mentalist" at the same time for a price in the same range as "NCIS: Los Angeles."

-- Moonves also expects continuing improvements in online monetization of content. Pointing out that 40% of the "Gossip Girl" audience is online, he said Web dollars there will eventually equal analog ones, even though things are not quite there yet.

-- CBS has been the No. 1 network in eight of the past nine years, Moonves said when asked about what many say are traditional up-and-down cycles in the TV business. "That's not a cycle."

 -- He also pointed out that the most-watched TV shows on Friday are Thursday shows that people catch up with via DVR.

-- Asked by The Hollywood Reporter about the outlook for the emerging CBS film business, which launches its first release "Extraordinary Measures," starring Harrison Ford, in January, Moonves said: "We're starting out slowly. We have three movies that cost under $40 million - two of them in the $30 millions, one in the teens. I'm very pleased with the movies. These are not tentpole movies, but they are excellent quality movies that should do extremely well."

Does the company have any film plans for 2011 yet? "We have about 15 projects in development," Moonves told THR. "We're looking very closely at the Vince Flynn book 'Consent to Kill.' That's a good candidate for something that could be up then. That's a strong project. We're getting a lot of interest from A-directors and A-stars."