Moonves Touts CBS’ Strengths to Analysts

Apr 29, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Now back at pre-strike levels of original programming in prime time, CBS is in a “dead heat” with Fox for total viewers and running second among viewers 18 to 49 years old, CBS Corp. President-CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday. He was speaking to financial analysts after CBS released its first-quarter earnings report.
Looking ahead, Mr. Moonves said he expects a “very healthy upfront season.” CBS presents its lineup for 2008-09 at Carnegie Hall in two weeks.
The network has focused on shorter, less expensive presentation tapes rather than full pilots because the development season was cut short by the Writers Guild of America strike that was not settled until March.
“More than 50% of the pilots we did cost 50% of what a normal pilot would cost,” said Mr. Moonves, who estimated the resulting savings at tens of millions of dollars.
He gave no hints about the development except to say he thinks CBS will have more original product finished before the presentation than other networks. He said he had only seen two pilots, “one of which I absolutely adore.”
The broadcast network will be the “centerpiece” of an upfront presentation that will offer a “highly appealing array” of other advertising opportunities “to match the needs of today’s market,” Mr. Moonves said.
The CBS chief said he is optimistic that negotiations will prevent an actors strike this summer. The talks with the Screen Actors Guild, which were scheduled to resume this morning, are “much more cordial” than those with the WGA were, he said.
Sumner Redstone, executive chairman of CBS Corp. and chairman of Viacom, opened the earnings call with praise for “my friend Leslie,” whose performance and job security have been the subject of recent rumors.
“There is no one that I would rather have at the CBS helm than Les Moonves,” Mr. Redstone said.
CBS Chief Financial Officer Fred Reynolds said that since advertisers tend to turn to the major TV networks when trying to get their message to the public, “We are still seeing growth.” He said he would describe the growth is slowing, but since recession means a decline, “I don’t think we would say we are seeing a recession.”
On other topics, Mr. Moonves said:
— Showtime is enjoying “stunning creative and commercial momentum,” with 1.3 million new subscribers over the last 12 months and the largest subscriber growth of any premium cable nets in fourth quarter 2007. It also is seeing strong program sales internationally.
— On the syndication side, “We have an extremely strong bench,” with “Dr. Phil” spinoff “The Doctors” in the pipeline along with several off-network shows.
— CBS-owned TV stations booked record revenues from political advertising during the first quarter. With its stations in key states such as New York, California and Illinois, Mr. Moonves said he thinks political advertising will continue strong.
Mr. Reynolds said the savings resulting from layoffs at the stations in March and from technology-related efficiencies should add up to more than $45 million in savings for the CBS-owned group this year.
— CBS’ top priority continues to be a dividend-paying company. The 27-cent dividend declared Tuesday was the sixth in the 2½ years since Viacom and CBS were split. However, Mr. Moonves said, with free cash flow up about 25% year-to-year to $938 million, the strongest level since the separation, the company is equipped to look for opportunities to acquire assets in three key areas: content (“the core of what we do”), interactive and outdoor advertising.
“We clearly have the cash to make the right moves as they come along,” Mr. Moonves said. “We are looking for opportunities. We are not going to be stupid about it.”
The CBS chief said “there is nothing we need to acquire” as far as cable networks go because CBS doesn’t need any in order to give it a bargaining chip in retransmission-consent negotiations with cable operators. “We already have 20 deals without cable [with cash] paid directly to CBS,” he said.
“Many companies are envious of our balance sheet,” he concluded.

One Comment

  1. Thank you for a great post

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