Moonves has Eye on prize

Net envisions upfront gains on Peacock

NEW YORK — Throwing down the gauntlet, CBS chair-CEO Leslie Moonves said Tuesday that the network enters this year’s upfront ad-buy market in its best position in two decades — especially on Thursday night, which NBC has long ruled.

“Usually I lose a lot of sleep at this time of year, not so this time,” Moonves said during a press breakfast in Gotham. “For the first time in a long while, we plan on being the leader in setting the numbers and the (ad) rates.”

Moonves wouldn’t make any specific predictions about whether CBS would indeed be able to overtake NBC in CPMs for the 2004-05 TV season. He did, however, predict that the Eye would take away significant ad dollars from the other nets — including NBC — with its ’04-05 TV sked.

This provoked a quick retort from the Peacock.

“We hear that from CBS every year. It’s getting old, just like their audience,” responded Randy Falco, group prexy for the NBC Television Network.

On Friday, NBC topper Jeffrey Zucker will hold his pre-upfront press gathering.

NBC remains the market leader in the all-important demo for advertisers, adults 18-49. CBS is the most-watched net, and also leads in adults 25-54.

Net execs love to crow, but Moonves indeed may have some reason to glow.

With NBC losing “Friends” on Thursday, the Eye net may be able to further improve its presence on that night, the most lucrative on television. This year, CBS has made a strong showing with its “Survivor: All Stars,” “CSI” and “Without a Trace” lineup, although “The Apprentice” has kept NBC on top in 18-49.

Madison Ave. says CBS has the most stable schedule of all the nets heading into the upfront, with relatively young hit shows, such as those making up the “CSI” franchise.

Moonves predicted CBS would emerge from the upfront with double-digit ad-rate increases. TV insiders put that growth at about 10%.

“We are not a one-trick pony, and we will have leadership for years to come,” Moonves said.

CBS topper also issued the perennial cry that net’s older audience is actually the one most coveted by advertisers.

Still, the Peacock will have plenty of feathers to parade at the upfront, “Friends” or no, including runaway reality hit “The Apprentice.” NBC is expected to anchor its new Thursday night around the reality show, which stars Donald Trump.

“There is no question that ‘The Apprentice’ has saved their bacon,” Moonves said. But he added that there’s no guarantee the reality show will perform as strongly next year.

Peacock has long commanded the highest ad rates during the frenzied upfront process, which will get under way in New York the week of May 17.

How much the loss of “Friends” will impact the Peacock’s standing remains to be seen. Sitcom is the most-expensive show on TV in terms of advertising, although the net will air its spinoff, “Joey.”

Moonves said there are only four or so holes in CBS’ sked. One new show will certainly be “CSI: New York.” He said a decision is imminent regarding whether “Everybody Loves Raymond” will stay on the air for another year.

In other upfront business, CBS said it would attend an advertisers’ summit later this month, during which Madison Ave. will debate whether the ad-buy process needs to be reformed. All the nets have been invited to attend.

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