“I have no idea what you are talking about,” laughed Les Moonves today about any possible new merger between CBS and Viacom. “Truth of the matter, we are a stand-alone public company,” he told a well-heeled ballroom Thursday at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2016 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference. He also touched on topics including the NFL and the delay of the upcoming CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery.
“We are very happy with the position we are playing now — we think we have a great future as the CBS Corporation now,” the chairman and CEO added on the issue of the former corporate siblings living under one solid National Amusements roof again. He was slightly more expansive on the topic than he was earlier this summer. “We are never going to do anything that would harm the CBS shareholders,” he threw in somewhat surprisingly.
“Not in active discussion for anything like that,” a “very happy” Moonves reiterated, capping off talking about the widely discussed possible Viacom remarriage. At the same time the CBS chief was speaking, as many in the room at the Beverly Hills Hotel were well aware, the newly reconstructed Viacom board was meeting in NYC, with Shari Redstone in attendance and ousted CEO Philippe Dauman clearly not.
Of course, Viacom was not the only topic of discussion: A certain final frontier and pro football got some Moonves mention too.
“With Star Trek, which is the family jewels, I rather it be a few months late than not late and suffer for it,” Moonves said about Wednesday’s announcement that the Bryan Fuller- and Alex Kurtzman-EP’ed Star Trek: Discovery will lift off on CBS All Access in May rather than January. “The producers came into my office and begged me,” he said of deciding to push back the Star Trek launch. “So we flipped their position on the dial in terms of our calendar,” the CBS boss added of The Good Wife spinoff and Discovery, for which Netflix paid the production costs in an international deal with CBS.
Moonves’ wide-ranging talk at the conference session also came as the fall season begins and another year of Thursday Night Football kicks offs tonight for CBS. “The key to our success is still producing new content,” Moonves said early in the session, where he laid out with typical optimism how the company is well on the way to meeting its financial and strategic goals.
“Having five games is fairly close to breaking even,” Moonves noted of the net’s current deal to show NFL games on Thursdays in the early part of the fall. Calling ratings increasingly “irrelevant,” he also noted that the big overall viewership the NFL games brought in was a good platform for CBS to launch new shows in the fall. But, Moonves being Moonves, five games — down from eight last year — obviously is not enough. “I anticipate sooner or later making a deal with the NFL,” he teased of going bigger on the gridiron on digital platform CBS All Access. “We think a deal will happen.”
Clearly never short of an opinion, Moonves today also took a slight swipe at FX boss John Landgraf’s much-cited idea that there is too much TV out there now for the marketplace. “There can never be too much product; there is a lot of great stuff,” the CBS boss said. He then brought a rare harsh note to today’s proceedings by adding, “Of the 500 shows, there is a lot of garbage out there too.”