Moonves: CBS can weather recession


NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves sounded an upbeat note in an increasingly downbeat economy, saying his heavily ad-dependent company will do just fine amid signs of a national recession.

As he has in other recent public comments and in contrary to what other moguls have said about their companies, Moonves told the McGraw-Hill Media Summit that CBS wasn't feeling the effects of a worsening economy. He said that there were some hits in the smaller markets, particularly in local radio and TV, but that it's a small part of their business.

He said that the network TV business and online were in fact strong, even with the recently concluded writers strike more than likely threatening CBS' position as the top network in total viewers. He said there was "a major asterisk" in the rankings because CBS didn't have original programming from late November to early March while Fox had "American Idol."

In any event, Moonves said that the company wouldn't stand pat if its businesses started to go downhill due to a recession.

"We (will) do things to change it," Moonves said. He said CBS wouldn't be like "a lot of guys who know how to lose with a full house." He said that automotive advertising is down but other categories like pharmaceutical and retail are up. And, Moonves said, content companies are less likely to be affected by a slowdown.

Moonves acknowledged the impact of the writers strike, which he called "100 days of hell" and hoped that there wouldn't be a job action by SAG. A member of SAG himself, Moonves noted that 8,000 SAG members earn less than $1,000 last year.

"So those people are going to vote on whether they like the new contract," Moonves said. "Fine. Make sure their new-media piece raises it to $1,001."

He said he regretted that people had lost income during the strike, money that won't ever return because "CSI," for instance, would produce only 17 original episodes this year instead of the usual 24. He predicted that at least some writers would a few years later discover they lost more than they ever would have made.

Moonves also said that he hoped that CBS' international revenue rose from about 10% to about 20% within the next three to five years. He acknowledged that the company was mostly domestic, despite some acquisitions like that are mostly international.

"We're much more domestic. We'd like to expand internationally," he said.

Moonves touted March Madness on Demand, which he said Thursday would take in at least $23 million in revenue and was almost completely sold. He noted that a publication had estimated that the Internet streaming of games had caused about $3 billion in lost productivity annually.

"If the U.S. would like to pay us 2.5 billion, we'll shut it down," Moonves joked.