Leslie Moonves Talks Dish Deal, OTT, Ad Market and Football at UBS Confab

Leslie Moonves - CBS

CBS chief Leslie Moonves gave some insights into the deal that the Eye struck this past Saturday with Dish Network after a 12-hour blackout and a lot of verbal sparring.

Speaking Tuesday at the UBS Global Media and Communications conference, Moonves said that Dish will disable the ad-skipping feature of its AutoHop DVR service for seven days after a program’s premiere — ensuring that viewers can’t easily zap through commercial pods during the seven-day frame that is increasingly a factor in advertising deals.

“We think C7 is going to be the currency next year” in upfront deals, Moonves said to underline the importance of the seven-day delay.

CBS will also be paid extra compensation for Dish’s ability to use Eye programming in the out-of-home program service that Dish wants to offer its subscribers. And Moonves said the deal calls for Dish to take steps to “strengthen” the presence of Showtime on the satcaster, presumably with increased marketing for the premium cabler.

Moonves touched on a range of topics during his hourlong Q&A session, from the performance to date of its fledgling OTT offering CBS All Access to its prospects for renewing its “Thursday Night Football” package with the NFL next year.

After barely a month in the market, the direct-to-consumer CBS All Access SVOD service is ahead of projections on subscribers, but Moonves wouldn’t get more specific. He said the real evaluation would come in about three year’s time. “When Netflix tells you have many people are watching ‘House of Cards,’ we’ll tell you how many subs we have,” he joked.

The serve offers on-demand access to all episodes of CBS’ current series and a good portion of the CBS vault. It’s also designed to offer a live stream of CBS network and affiliate feeds, although at present only the CBS O&Os are offering the live stream.

Negotiations with nearly 200 Eye affiliate stations are under way, and those stations will share in the revenue generated by the $5.99 monthly sub fee.

CBS does not have the right yet to put its NFL programming on All Access. Gaining football rights could mean a change in the price, Moonves said. For now the network is focused on renewing its “Thursday Night Football” franchise. The league’s decision will come some time before the end of the current football season, Moonves said.

CBS also launched the ad-supported digital news channel CBSN, which has already registered upticks in usage around big news events such as the controversial grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., Moonves said.

Moonves also hinted strongly at the prospect of Showtime launching an OTT service outside of the cable bundle next year, as HBO has vowed to do. He didn’t get specific other than to say “obviously that’s something on our plate for the future.”

The shakiness of the TV advertising market and declining live TV ratings has been a subject of concern on Wall Street in recent months. Moonves acknowledged that 2014 had been “rough” but he expects “better pacing” next year. He talked up CBS’ solid fall launch with new dramas “Scorpion” and “Madam Secretary,” which has helped the Eye do well in recent weeks in the scatter market.

And while there is a sea-change happening in television viewing, CBS’ business is fortified by the fact that “20 million people still watch ‘NCIS’ on Tuesday night.”

Moonves noted two areas in which the company had recently changed some of its thinking: broadcast spectrum auctions and licensing series to rival SVOD outlets.

With broadcast spectrum auction prices expected to hit the 10-figure range in some key markets, Moonves said those high prices might be attractive in situations where CBS has two stations in a market. He said his tech team is looking at options for selling some spectrum without losing the ability to keep a station on the air. “I think we can have our cake and eat it too.”

On digital licensing, the Eye had been pretty strict about keeping current CBS and Showtime shows off of SVOD. “The Good Wife’s” deal with Netflix was a big exception, and the show’s performance has been eye-opening. “We’re looking at a liberalization of our policies” in regards to SVOD, but decisions will be made on a show-by-show basis. “We look at how (windowing decisions) best fit the monetization of that show,” he said.

Finally, Moonves once again sought to dampen speculation about the Eye making a big M&A move anytime soon — despite persistent chatter about CBS’ eventually tying the knot with Lionsgate, or Starz or Sony Pictures Entertainment. “You’re not going to see us invest in a basic cable channel,” he said. “We take a cursory look at everything but we’ve seen nothing that has excited us.”

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