The CBS chief called the streaming service “the lovely Aereo,” in a conference call with analysts. And he continues to insist that he’s “not losing any sleep” over it. But it seems that Les Moonves has spent several waking hours considering what he might do if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Aereo’s right to stream broadcasters’ free, over-the-air transmissions — which he and other TV companies insist is a form of theft. “We have deals with most of our [pay TV distributors] for a long, long time to deliver our content,” he says. In addition “we’re thinking about over the top, delivering directly to our consumers [via the Internet]. We’re talking about doing Aereo among ourselves if it became viable.” Analysts didn’t follow up to ask how that might affect CBS affiliates. In any case, Moonves says, the tiny company has attracted “way more attention than it deserves” adding that he has “confidence that the Court will find Aereo to be illegal.”
On other matters, Moonves says that the late night transition from David Letterman to Stephen Colbert will be “a bittersweet moment for CBS.” He calls Letterman “the greatest ever in late night comedy” but adds that Colbert “can be the best of his generation as well.” The late night show currently runs in 200 global markets, and by the time Colbert takes over it could be in 220.
The CBS chief says he’s optimistic about the upfront market but still, unlike in previous years, declines to offer a specific target. “We’re very encouraged” especially as the addition of NFL games on Thursday nights in the fall “tightens the inventory for us.” CBS’ sales “will be up quite a bit.” Next year’s schedule will cost less than this year’s. Meanwhile, he expects advertisers to warm to deals that include viewing up to seven days after a show airs, up from the current three days. If that catches on then it’s “a nine-digit opportunity for us.”
Moonves also talked up CBS’ summer programming. The network will have 90 hours of originals vs. 2.5 hours four years ago “and that would have been a country music special.” With opportunities to syndicate shows to digital services such as Netflix as well as cable “the back end [of a show’s sales] is becoming as important as the front end. That’s something that was unheard of five years ago.”