Moonves hopeful for auto ads

CBS Corp. chief 'more optimistic' than many of his peers

NEW YORK -- Leslie Moonves hasn't lost his bullishness transitioning into 2009.

The CBS Corp. president and CEO said Tuesday he was hopeful that the depressed automotive advertising category would rebound this year and said he feels better about the new year than about 2008.

"There is no question that 2008 was a tough year for advertising," Moonves said at Citi's 19th Annual Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference in Arizona in a session that was webcast. He cited ad declines in the key auto, retail and financial services categories as major culprits amid a broadening recession.

But a recent auto bailout and the fact that European carmakers are eyeing increased U.S. market shares make Moonves "more optimistic" than most peers on an auto ad rebound in 2009.

The CEO also cited strong CBS network ad trends and solid momentum at the firm's non-ad-based businesses, such as Showtime and TV syndication (particularly in overseas territories), as encouraging. Those are "doing as well as they can," Moonves said. And "the network is a major silver lining," he added.

"I feel much more optimistic in 2009 than I did in '08," he said.

Asked about his expectations for this year's upfront ad market, Moonves said it was very early. "God knows where we're gonna be then," he said about the annual May mating dance of networks and media buyers.

Pressed for more, Moonves said he expects CBS to be top of the line in the upfront due to strong ratings. And he predicted pricing gains, although he wouldn't estimate their extent.

In last year's upfront, he said, CBS brought in 8%-9% CPM gains. Right now, scatter pricing is about level with upfront levels, while volume is down.