CBS chief Les Moonves bows to no one in his love for broadcast TV. But after seeing the high prices the FCC has commanded in its current wireless spectrum auction, even he is willing to consider offering TV station airwaves for a share in the return. “We’re not saying it’s an absolute ‘no’ when you see those numbers,” he told investors today at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in NYC. “It looks attractive to a CW duopoly” and independent stations that CBS owns. “We can have our cake and eat it too, and make a lot of money.”
Moonves continued the parade of moguls at the confab who say that TV advertising should improve next year, after months of surprising weakness. 2014 “was rough in the advertising business,” he says. “We expect in ’15 to have much better pacing.” Aren’t dollars moving from TV to digital? “They’re not taking from us. They’re taking from smaller cable networks” and from print — which one wag referred to as the organ donor for digital.
The CBS chief says he’s preparing for the move to digital with the recent launch of CBS All Access and the CBSN online news channel — as well as what he referred to as “a potential Showtime over-the-top offering. We haven’t said where or when, but it’s on our plate.” He wouldn’t provide hard numbers for the All Access subscripions. “We’re ahead of projections. I know, your projections could be 10 subs….When Netflix tells you how many people are watching House Of Cards, we’ll tell you how many subs we have.”
Still, he says that “the growth is obviously there” and “as opposed to Hulu, we own 100%.” Moonves says that live broadcasts on the service — now limited to CBS O&Os — should include affiliates soon as they hammer out terms. CBS-broadcast NFL games, currently not included, also likely will become part of the package. “That could change the price point, or we could share” revenues.
Meanwhile Moonves sees an online opportunity when Stephen Colbert replaces David Letterman as host of The Late Show. “We never shared any money from that show” or The Late Late Show, where Craig Ferguson will be replaced by James Corden. But that will change: CBS will own both shows. “Colbert is huge online,” the CEO says. “There’s money to be reaped from that.” They’ll also cost less to produce. “David was there for 25 years. Colbert is more of a rookie, but a well-proven one.”