The big question for CBS is whether — or, more likely, when — it will merge with Viacom. And CEO Les Moonves provided the safe answer to analysts in his quarterly earnings call.

“If it looks right and is structured properly, it could be an attractive opportunity,” he says. But “we will only do a deal if it’s in the best interests of CBS and its shareholders.”

His biggest shareholder is Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements, which has 80% of the votes and recommended the re-combination with Viacom — which it also controls. The companies split in 2006.

CBS’ board has created a special committee to consider potential terms, and “we are still in the very early stages.”

How early? “It would be inaccurate to even suggest” a time table, Moonves says although “we aren’t even in the second inning yet.”

The ever-optimistic CEO calls his company’s finances and prospects “extremely strong.”

He doesn’t fear the growth of streaming services or skinny bundles that will either complement or supplement pay TV’s fat traditional package. “All successful bundles have to have CBS,” he says.

But “it’s important that we get terms we can live with…They need to be reasonable in what they pay us.”

Meanwhile, CBS is preparing terms to offer CBS All Access and Showtime’s streaming service as a package for a discount.

Execs say that they’re reducing their dependence on advertising, which now accounts for 43% of the company’s revenues — the lowest rate yet. That will go lower when the company offloads its radio operations.

Even so, the company is looking for a nice increase in Q4: Local ads will be up by a mid to high teen percentage due to political spending. Radio will be up by a low single digit. And at the TV network, higher upfront prices are kicking in and scatter pricing is up “in excess of 20%,” CFO Joseph Ianniello says.

And the company anticipates a boost at next year’s upfront negotiations when Nielsen is expected to be ready with its Total Audience Ratings, which measure digital viewing in additional to traditional.

“This means we can be paid for the full value” of shows, Moonves says.

The CEO punted on a question about the impact AT&T’s planned acquisition of Time Warner might have on CBS — which partners with the entertainment company at The CW.

“It’s way too early for us to judge anything,” Moonves says.

He remains bullish about the NFL, despite weakening ratings for the games in the first half of the season. CBS expects to have a deal soon to offer games on CBS All Access.

Moonves says it’s unclear whether the election or some other factors hurt the early season football viewing. “Let’s see what happens a little bit down the road.”