Things used to be a lot simpler for Leslie Moonves.
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When he took command of CBS Entertainment in 1995, he inherited a network that seemed on the brink of irrelevance, its Tiffany reputation in tatters. His task, if challenging, was easily defined: Develop hit shows.
He succeeded wildly, his power increasing in conjunction with CBS’ primetime ratings.
Now, as CEO of CBS Corp., Mr. Moonves has a lot more on his plate, overseeing an empire that seems to grow a little bit each year.
That’s particularly true in the digital world. CBS’ most recent big-ticket acquisition, CNET, has dramatically expanded its reach as an online player. CNET’s TV.com, for example, is being talked up as a potential rival to the News Corp.- and NBC Universal-backed Hulu.
Mr. Moonves thus finds himself balancing two very different business models. He oversees the most traditional (and most successful) old-school broadcast network, while at the same time supervising a fast-growing online division.
But it’s not as much of a dichotomy as it might seem, he said.
“We don’t think of our business in terms of ‘traditional media’ versus ‘new media’—we think of it as being a premium content provider on all platforms, now and in the future,” Mr. Moonves said. “Today we cover every possible field in terms of content, and we have the distribution, sales and cross-promotional expertise to monetize that content.”
And yet even as CBS diversifies, Mr. Moonves has never taken his eye off of CBS Entertainment and its primacy within the company. The CBS broadcast network had a stellar 2008, developing one of the few new hits of the year, “The Mentalist.” Premium cable network Showtime also continues to wow, closing the buzz gap with HBO via hits such as “Dexter,” “Weeds” and newcomer “The United States of Tara.”
Despite the positives, Mr. Moonves—like most of his media CEO peers—would love to see his company’s share price higher. And while he’s quietly been making good on his promise to get cable operators to compensate CBS for its programming, a more diverse cable portfolio would be nice.
In the end, however, maybe Mr. Moonves’ job isn’t that much more complicated than it was when he joined CBS. Maybe, despite all the corporate trappings, he’s still a programming guy at heart.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Leslie Moonves
Title: President and CEO, CBS Corp.
How long in current position: Four years (At CBS since 1995, he was named president and CEO of CBS Television in 1998.)
Year of birth: 1948
Place of birth: New York City
What to watch for: Can Mr. Moonves duplicate the success of the broadcast network in other divisions, including radio and new media?
Who knew: Mr. Moonves recently told TelevisionWeek that he and wife Julie Chen (“The Early Show”) have become addicted to playing the home version of “Million Dollar Password.”