Moonves expects ad prices to jump

CBS Corp. chief predicts double-digit increases for upfront

NEW YORK -- CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that he is looking for double-digit price increases in this year's upfront advertising season.

He also had a couple of jokes about the biggest films of Oscar night for investors. First, he quipped that he may be the only person in the U.S. beyond Summit Entertainment who was happy and excited that "The Hurt Locker" won big on Sunday because CBS Corp.'s Showtime has the premium TV rights to the movie.

To laughs, Moonves later said he is still bullish on the recently launched CBS Films operation, even though first release "Extraordinary Measures" "wasn't even near" the industry's highest-grossing film of all time, "Avatar."

Speaking at the Credit Suisse Global Media & Communications Convergence Conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Moonves also shot down the idea that a merger of Showtime and Starz would make sense.

"There is no reason to combine them," Moonves said, highlighting that former HBO boss Chris Albrecht recently took the helm at Starz, which he called "great." He also quipped that it would be tough to strike a merger agreement with deal guru Greg Maffei, CEO of Starz parent Liberty Media.

Moonves on Tuesday reiterated that scatter market price increases have been in the 25%-plus range, which should translate into double-digit upfront gains.

If not, "then it's worth our while" to continue playing the scatter game, he told the conference. If, however, CBS sees "strong" double-digit growth in the upfront, it will sell out more ad inventory, he added.

On the radio front, ad revenue could end up in the high single digits in the current first quarter, according to Moonves.

Asked whether CBS is on track to reach $250 million a year in retransmission fees by 2012, Moonves said that he feels very good about retrans deals to date and that the financial target looks "rather conservative right now."