Moonves: Foreign sales thriving economic malaise

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that turmoil in international market hasn’t made a dent in the company’s muscular $1 billion in annual international sales — a fact that surprises even him.

“It’s really interesting because I obviously speak (regularly) with the guy who runs our international sales group and, for the last year, for sure, I keep expecting him to come back and say, ‘You know, in this country we got killed by the economy.’ I haven’t heard that once. The numbers have gone up every single year in every single territory,” Moonves told investors at the UBS Global Media and Communications summit in Gotham.

“Not that we make a fortune in Greece,” he added, “but we’ve gone up in Greece and Spain and Italy,” three of the Europe’s hardest-hit players in the tormented Euro-zone.

It’s proven easier and possibly cheaper for foreign companies to continue buying U.S. shows even in times of recession than to try to re-create them.

Most CBS dramas get north or $2 million an episode, Moonves said. “All is good for American product overseas.”

Meanwhile, CBS and others continue to fork out for sports rights.

Reports this week said the National Football League is close to inking an extension of three deals, with CBS, Comcast and Fox, for annual average rights payments of at least $1 billion — up 60% over the previous contract.

“The price of poker is going up,” Moonves said. But it should, he added. “Even a bad football game out-rates most programming.”

Asked about one of CBS’ newer partners, Netflix, Moonves said it “has certainly become much more of a friend than a foe.” Content deals are injecting fresh cash into the CW Network in the current fourth quarter and will turn it profitable next year.

Media chieftains continue to assess Netflix’s influence and its impact on their overall business, especially as the video streaming company, which has been dogged by a series of recent strategic missteps, launches into original programming. “We are rooting for them,” Moonves said. “We hope they continue to be strong, to gain subscribers.”

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was to have presented at the massive conference later on Tuesday.

CBS’ deals with Netflix and other streaming services are non-exclusive, a strategy Moonves continues to defend. CBS owns 70% of its shows, he said, and “those are the family jewels. We are protective of that content. So when someone says, ‘There’s this opportunity to do this deal, it will be worth $30 or $40 million,’ I say, ‘At what risk?'” With billions of dollars between advertising and syndication to protect, “You’re going to have to make a very compelling proposal.”

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