It was legal matters and late-night that Les Moonves wanted to talk about today at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. “I feel good about our chances in the Supreme Court,” said the CBS chief about last week’s hearing on the legality of the Aereo streaming service. Not that Moonves wasn’t prepared for a loss in the nine Justices’ upcoming ruling. “I’ll stand by my statement that we have another alternative if we lose,” Moonves added. Last year at the same conference, Moonves said he could move CBS to cable in “a few days” if the situation with the streaming service could not be resolved in the courts – and that was before the broadcasters petitioned SCOTUS late last year. “Aereo takes our content,” the network exec told the conference crowd, “and doesn’t pay for it – that’s theft.” Moonves added today, “I think our case is very strong.” A decision from the Supreme Court is expected in late June. On a more personal note, Moonves said that though he and Aereo backer Barry Diller are close friends he decided to never speak about the streaming service with the IAC boss after one conversation for the betterment of their relationship. That practical advice drew a big laugh from the suit-and-tie crowd in the ballroom this morning.
Related: Jeff Shell & Les Moonves Slam Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Remarks That “Movies Are Not A Growth Business”
When it came to late-night and all the changes happening at CBS, Moonves was both practical and full of praise. “Late-night is not what it used to be,” he said noting the generational and viewing shift from the era of Johnny Carson. “It is not as economically profitable as it used to be,” he added, and noted ‘the last few years it has been about bragging rights.” Still with David Letterman’s news earlier this month that he was stepping down in 2015, the longstanding host’s quickly announced replacement of Stephen Colbert plus Craig Ferguson‘s departure from CBS, at the end of the year, there’s a lot of change at the network. “These are decisions that are going to last 20 years hopefully, these are generational decisions,” said Moonves of bringing the Comedy Central host onboard and now finding a replacement for the 12:30 slot. Praising both newbie Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel, Moonves told the Milken Conference he’d “rather have the best guy” than worry too much about ratings when it comes to late night.
Praising Colbert, Moonves also took a swipe – without mentioning names — at people like Chelsea Handler who had teased out their own names about maybe looking at the CBS late-night slots. As for who would take Ferguson’s spot, Moonves would only say that “between now and January 1 we have to figure it out.” He added, “this is really a wide-open territory.”
The CBS boss was joined today on the Entertainment: The Big Picture panel by A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc, Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman Jeff Shell and Activision Blizzard boss Bobby Kotick.