UPDATE, 2:55 PM: CEO Les Moonves sure loves drama. Although sitcoms traditionally make the big bucks when they go into syndication, “dramas now are a better value proposition for us than comedies,” the CBS chief told analysts in a conference call. “All dramas pretty much score big internationally.” They’re also popular on streaming services such as Netflix. Indeed, the service can act as a fail-safe mechanism: When CBS takes one of the shows it produces off the air “which has a good chance of happening,” then it automatically goes on Netflix. “We are primarily a drama place, and that’s worked out just fine for us.” Moonves says he’s also open to producing shows specifically for online services. “We have a lot of premium content that is not scripted fictional content,” he says. “It’s something we want to do more down the line.” The problem is that “we haven’t seen the model” to make the productions lucrative. “We’re working on that.” The financial calculations could change as additional companies offer streaming services. Moonves says CBS has been talking to Intel, Comcast, and “everyone who’s out there…There are a lot of players out there circling the building and we will be making those deals over the next number of months.” He notes that several shows in his library, including Star Trek, are especially popular with online audiences. “They’re figuring out their models and they need our content.” He seemed cool, though, to the prospect of joining Hulu if it limited itself to pay TV customers. If the service changes direction “we will of course have a conversation with them….Right now we’re very happy with our strategy.”
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that Moonves predicts a strong upfront ad sales market and that “we will lead it again both in volume and CPM” (industry jargon for the cost to reach 1,000 viewers). “I know people feel I sound cocky about our schedule, but we feel good.” The softer than expected scatter market toward the end of 2011 “doesn’t make us change that (outlook) whatsoever.” He’s also ebullient about the prospect for ad sales at CBS’ TV and radio stations. “The fact that auto (sales are) back is hugely significant for our local businesses.” And Moonves sees no limits for Showtime. “People are responding to our original programming in a big, big way.” All told, the CBS businesses are generating a lot of cash — and execs say they intend to return a lot of it to shareholders through dividends or share repurchases. “It’s a major priority to increase that over time,” CFO Joseph Ianniello says.
PREVIOUS, 1:09 PM: Shares are trending up in after market trading after CBS handily beat Wall Street’s already optimistic estimates for its Q1 results. The company reported net income of $363M, up nearly 80% vs the same period last year, on revenues of $3.9B, up 11.8%. Analysts had expected revenues to come in at about $3.8B. But the earnings figure is the big surprise: CBS delivered 54 cents a share, a dime ahead of the consensus forecast. The company says that ad revenues were up 5% in the quarter. Also, it had the semifinals of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, which aired last year in Q2. Revenues for the Entertainment unit, which includes the broadcast network and production operations, rose 16% to $2.3B. Cable Networks, dominated by Showtime, were up 15% to $452M helped by rising licensing revenues for digital streams of its shows as well as a rate increase. And the Simon & Schuster publishing division was up 14% to $176M, with a boost from best sellers including Kill Shot by Vince Flynn and Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult. The company took an $11M impairment charge, though, to account for the diminished value of five radio stations in West Palm Beach that were sold last month for $50M. CEO Les Moonves says that he expects to sell his programming for the 2012-2013 season into “a very healthy upfront marketplace” as CBS also collects an expected bounty in political ads and in syndication sales. As a result, “we look forward to the future with great confidence.”