Stephen Colbert, James Corden Late-Night Shows Are Less Expensive Than Predecessors, CEO Says

AP Images/Invision
James Corden

Leslie Moonves also cites revenue upside opportunities for the CBS-owned shows and says David Letterman's show costs have "crept up" over time.

The outlook for CBS' changing late-night lineup was the topic of some debate at an investor conference on Wednesday, with CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves touting their financial upside.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank 2015 Media, Internet and Telecom Conference in Florida, Moonves was asked about the upcoming debut of James Corden as host of The Late Late Show later this month and Stephen Colbert's move to the Late Show this fall.

Moonves said it was an "extremely" exciting time for CBS as no network has ever replaced two late-night hosts in the same year.

Colbert's show will be less expensive than David Letterman's, plus CBS owns it, meaning it can also make revenue off ancillary businesses, Moonves said. He said there was "real potential" for profit upside in the next few years. He didn't mention specific financials.

Addressing the lower cost, he called the Letterman show "pretty" expensive, adding that "Colbert is not going to cost as much." He also lauded Letterman as a loyal guy, saying that also means he has kept staff employed. "David … was unbelievably loyal. He wouldn’t fire anybody," Moonves said. "So he has people that have been there for years getting paid for not doing very much. People don’t know what a good guy he really is." That means that costs have "crept up" over the years, Moonves added. The new show would be "a bit more economical," given that Colbert is coming from a cable network, Comedy Central, the CBS CEO said.

He said Letterman owned his show and the show after, with Moonves saying "he was replicating the Johnny Carson model" that Carson used at NBC. CBS, before Moonves arrived, recruited Letterman to come over. "We didn't own any of the ancillary rights, we distributed for him," the CBS CEO said, explaining how the model is now changing.

In terms of revenue opportunities, Moonves mentioned the digital world. Jimmy Fallon on NBC is doing a "phenomenal job" online, while Letterman was somewhat "reluctant" to go online given that wasn't a business opportunity until more recently, meaning Colbert clips could now attract traffic and money. They will be out "virtually every day," and CBS can monetize them, Moonves said. "The monetization online and in social media is really expanding," plus Colbert attracts younger audiences, he added.

The CBS CEO called working with Colbert "phenomenal" and said "I can't wait" for him to start.

British comedian Corden's show will offer something different, with Moonves encouraging conference attendees to check it out. "He is going to be a pretty exciting new dynamic," he said. Moonves highlighted the network's trust in Corden as an example for CBS taking risks. "We are putting on a guy that 99.8 percent of America has never heard of," he quipped, adding: "I'm just making up those numbers. He is not exactly a household [name]. He is unbelievably talented, he is funny. If you want to have a good time, watch that show."

Moonves said CBS also owns that show and it is also less expensive. Summarized Moonves: "There is not a major investment in programming there. The newer shows are cheaper than the older shows."

Twitter: @georgszalai