Moonves assures affils that CBS is top priority

Viacom topper keeps eye on Eye

Viacom co-COO and co-prexy Leslie Moonves’ job title keeps getting bigger but that doesn’t mean he has taken his eye off the CBS ball, the exec told affiliates Wednesday.

Speaking with station reps at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel for the 51st annual CBS affiliates meeting, Moonves sought to allay concerns that his Viacom duties would negatively impact the network.

CBS will always be the “jewel in my crown,” Moonves said. “It will be my first love. No matter what responsibilities I take on, I will be fully involved and fully engaged in the operations of the CBS Television Network.”

Meanwhile, Moonves also said he believed the proposed Viacom corporate split would be a win for affils.

The Viacom board will meet by the end of June to vote on whether to carve the company in two, with Moonves in charge of broadcast properties, outdoor and TV production/distribution. Viacom co-COO/co-prexy Tom Freston would head film and cable operations.

“If this happens, it will be very positive for us,” Moonves said. “It will provide better focus, and put CBS at the center of a vibrant media company.”

Mood was generally upbeat at the confab, with CBS coming off a strong season and no contentious network/affil issues of substance on the table.

Net and stations will gather again today to powwow on more pressing issues, such as CBS News, which Moonves called “a top priority for all of us.”

CBS News chief Andrew Heyward will also discuss the ongoing talks over how to reform the “CBS Evening News.”

Net and stations will also dwell on issues such as indecency and digital TV conversion.

CBS affiliate board topper Doreen Wade, prexy of Freedom Broadcasting, said the two sides would aim to develop revenue streams and “make money together.”

“We can’t agree on everything, and have agreed to disagree on a number of fronts,” Wade said. “But you take the good with the bad. And in the next few months, we’ll be discussing ways to put money in both our pockets.”

One past issue of contention — how affiliates might help cover CBS’ pricey National Football League deal — is not an issue this time out, as the Eye’s “NFL Value Exchange” deal with stations doesn’t expire until after the 2005-2006 season, when the net’s existing NFL pact ends.

But having sealed a $3.7 billion, six-year NFL deal last fall, CBS will have to meet with stations in the coming year in order to renew the arrangement and negotiate any changes (such as the trading of local ad time, preemption issues and repurposing rights).

“We did it again with the expectation that you were behind us,” Moonves said to affils regarding NFL TV rights.

Beyond stressing its status as the top-rated web among total viewers, CBS also highlighted its big gains in the 10 p.m. hour — crucial for stations as a lead-in to local news.

According to Moonves, CBS was No. 1 in viewers and demos in the 10 p.m. hour, Monday through Friday, for the first time in 14 years.

This week’s affiliate meeting marks the 10th for Moonves and affiliates chief Peter Schruth.

“It seems like only yesterday when Angela Lansbury was the hottest woman on CBS,” Moonves quipped.

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