“We have about five new shows on this year,” he says. “Of those five, I believe all five of them will be renewed, and we own four of them.”
The network has introduced five freshman series so far this season — Limitless, Code Black, Life in Pieces, Supergirl and Angel from Hell. Three of them — Limitless, Code Black and Angel from Hell — are owned by CBS. Angel from Hell has been canceled. Two other shows are debuting this spring — Rush Hour and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders; CBS owns Criminal Minds.
What Moonves likely referred to was the four current freshman series and Beyond Borders, which launches next week. That makes five shows which have a strong shot at coming back for a second season. He probably meant to say that three of them — Limitless, Code Black and Beyond Borders — are owned by CBS and two come from outside studios – Life In Pieces and Supergirl.
In any event, with few holes to fill in his schedule, Moonves says only ordered 17 pilots, less than usual, for this fall and only expects to pick up “no more than four or five…We don’t need that much.”
What’s more, he told the investor group, CBS owns at least half of 16 of the shows that went to pilot, and 100% of a majority of them.
That should pay off in syndication. Although basic cable channels crow about their originals, “look at the ratings. Look at how often The Big Bang Theory is on [TBS]. It’s on almost every 20 seconds. So when they say, ‘Oh, we’re not buying as much off-network [reruns],’ that’s not exactly the truth. That marketplace is very solid.”
His comments were part of effort to persuade Wall Street that there’s a lot of growth left at CBS, and that it can become “all things to all people.” Its stock price has declined 14.2% over the last 12 months as many fear that traditional media have peaked while digital media grow.
He talked up his own online opportunities — including a possible package offer “at a lower price point” for those who want to subscribe to the CBS All Access and Showtime streaming services.
CBS All Access will have three or four original shows next year in addition to a new iteration of Star Trek, which premieres on January 17. When that happens “you’re going to see a larger marketing push…Next year it’s going to add a substantial amount to our bottom line.”
He’s negotiating with the NFL to get rights to offer CBS’ games on CBS All Access. “Discussions are ongoing” and would enable the NFL to collect “a piece of our subscriber fee and bonuses as they get people.”
He’s also confident that CBS will fare well as online or traditional distributors come up with skinny bundles, offering fewer channels than the popular expanded basic package but at a lower price. He calls them “inevitable” because “people are tired of paying for things they don’t want to watch.”
Meanwhile the main broadcast business is benefiting from a resurgent ad market.
“I haven’t seen advertising this strong in many, many years,” he says. Sales in the last two quarters of 2015, and the current quarter, have been “unbelievably strong” — which indicates to him that “you’re going to see the upfront [market] go up a lot, both in CPMs and volume.”
Moonves’ also is optimistic about rising sales of political ads this year — and tried to clarify a comment he made last week when he told another investor gathering that the drama around Donald Trump’s presidential bid “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
His comment was “misconstrued,” he says. “All I said is that he’s very good for ratings. Our ratingts are way up in the debates. That means extra money and political advertising. There’s a whole new batch of advertising being spent right now….It obviously helps our local stations a lot.”
Moonves added he doesn’t fear that, if Trump is the GOP nominee, then there’ll be less spending due to his ability to attract attention for free over social media and on cable news channels.
“There may be some Republican candidates that local Senators and Governors are going to spend more money because — let’s put it this way — they may not be absolutely in sync with the national ticket. …We’re anticipating a record-breaking year.”
(Nellie Andreeva contributed to this report.)