Katie Couric, traditional media as CBS defines and practices it, compensation for content wherever it appears and the finale of “The Sopranos” got spirited defenses from CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves, who was questioned by New Yorker writer Ken Auletta and a media-savvy crowd at a breakfast Tuesday morning in New York City.
Mr. Moonves, who wooed Ms. Couric away from NBC’s “Today,” where she was the brightest morning star, and made her anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” said he still has faith in her, despite ratings that recently hit a record low of less than 6 million viewers for the long-third-place flagship newscast.
He said he has been “surprised at the vitriol directed at her,” often from women, and accused former “Evening News” anchor Dan Rather of taking a “cheap shot” at Ms. Couric when he said Monday on MSNBC that CBS had aimed to “dumb it down, tart it up” under Ms. Couric in an attempt to attract younger viewers to his old newscast.
CBS has suggested of late that Ms. Couric may be running into viewer reluctance to accept a woman as the solo anchor of a flagship newscast.
Mr. Moonves characterized Mr. Rather’s remarks as “sexist,” but he said something had to be done to lower the 60-plus average age of evening news viewers or “we will die. … You are heading for destruction.”
“Give her a break,” Mr. Moonves implored the room.
The CBS CEO reiterated that while he believes in the long-term prospects for strength and growth for CBS — which he characterizes as “traditional media,” not “old media” — his strategy is to stick the CBS toe in a lot of new-media waters and to require some form of compensation for CBS content on other platforms, from cable to video-sharing sites.
He summed up CBS’ digital strategy as “anytime, anywhere, anyhow, as long as we get paid for it.”
On other subjects, he said:
- Anyone who was looking for closure with Sunday’s finale of HBO’s “The Sopranos” probably wasn’t a true fan of the series from the “brilliant but somewhat troubled mind of [creator] David Chase.” “I loved it,” said Mr. Moonves, who lamented that CBS and the other broadcast networks would not be able to do “The Sopranos” “properly.”
- The Federal Communications Commission has “overstepped its boundaries” with its more aggressive campaign against content.
- “I would never bet against [News Corp. Chairman] Rupert Murdoch getting what he’s after,” he said, adding he sees nothing wrong with Mr. Murdoch trying to acquire Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones & Co.
- Longtime acquaintance Al Gore is wrong when the former Democratic presidential candidate says, in his recent book “The Assault on Reason,” that TV is bad for democracy because the medium traffics too much in emotion and produces viewer passivity. “There’s nothing wrong with emotion,” Mr. Moonves maintained.
- CBS “absolutely” plans to keep its radio division, which has shed some 40 smaller-market stations since last year. “We still believe in the radio business in a very big way,” Mr. Moonves said. Of publisher Simon & Schuster, he said: “I absolutely love this asset.”
- Shows are the brands these days, not networks, he asserted. That was one lesson of the successful campaign by angry viewers of “Jericho,” who argued they were watching the post-apocalyptic series on other platforms but not being counted, to get CBS to relent and cancel its cancellation.
But Mr. Moonves said revenue from any “Jericho” viewing has to come back to CBS. “My bread and butter comes from commercials,” he said.