CBS’s shares have lost about 23% of their value over the last six months — in part because investors are worried about weak industrywide TV ad sales and challenges from Netflix and other digital platforms. But CEO Les Moonves used his quarterly earnings call with analysts today to try to reverse that.
“Advertising is coming back in a big way for CBS,” he says. Concerns about the weak upfront market were unfounded: It was hurt because “there were lot of agency reviews going on with major major clients.” But the scatter market “is the strongest we’ve seen in many many years” — to the point where CBS is replacing promotions with ads to accommodate the demand.
“We don’t give guidance,” the CEO says. “But from everything we see, the 4th quarter is going to be stronger.” And next year “advertising will be very strong. We know that.”
On top of that, Moonves is optimistic about his ability to raise retransmission prices for cable and satellite companies and their customers. “We will exceed our target of $2 billion by 2020,” he says.
Digital streaming services, including many that compete with cable and satellite providers, will help far more than hurt. “The dire predictions of cord cutting were overblown,” Moonves says.
He’s not concerned about so-called skinny bundles from traditional and digital distributors, saying that CBS will be included in virtually everyone’s offering. But the number of those slimmed down services will grow — including one he referred to from an unnamed tech company that’s probably Apple.
It had been expected to launch a service this year, but “these things do take time to hatch,” Moonves says. Meanwhile “Comcast is fooling around with ideas around the skinny bundle. So is Time Warner Cable.”
As a result, “there’s no question there’s going to be a change from the 180 channel universe.”
He hopes to become a significant digital player via CBS All Access, which received a big boost this week with the company’s announcement about a new Star Trek series, which Moonves refers to as “the family jewels.” It will premiere in January 2017 with a preview broadcast on CBS followed by an exclusive run in the U.S. on CBS All Access.
The series will “make all Star Trek fans very proud…We can see millions of them joining All Access.” It already has the previous five series in the sci-fi franchise.
Trek has “done exceedingly well in streaming…Even the ones that were done 30 or 40 years ago still resonate today.” It’s “a huge international franchise, so our international distribution guy is going crazy.”
The series also is “a very important piece of business for us” as All Access establishes itself as a home for original programming. “Knowing the loyalty of the Star Trek fan base, this will boost it.”
Despite his enthusiasm for the ad business, Moonves says that he “absolutely” is considering the possibility of offering an ad-free version of All Access — much like one Hulu recently introduced. The ad supported CBS service costs $5.99 a month. “How about $9.99 with no ads? It’s very possible,” he says although he adds that “it’s still very early.”