Moonves reports strong ad rates

CBS chief says sales up 30%

CBS Corp. topper Leslie Moonves reported strong demand for national advertising in the fourth quarter, negating some fears an economic slowdown could hit the ad biz.

Moonves said ad rates for the for last-minute buys known as the “scatter market” are up 30% from a year ago, helped in part by the earlier presidential primaries scheduled in major media market states such as California.

“People who didn’t buy in the Upfront are suddenly buying now,” Moonves said, at a conference held by Merrill Lynch in Marina Del Ray, Calif.

“As we head into the fourth quarter, political advertising is coming into effect,” he said, citing the Feb. 5 primary in California, where CBS owns five TV stations.

Because much of the advertising is tied to political issues–and not to individual candidates–Moonves said he expects the spending to remain strong no matter which candidates remain in the race by early next year.

Moonves said that unlike the Upfront in May, when advertisers reserve spots for the coming year, last-minute deals aren’t based on ratings guarantees, meaning CBS won’t have to return the money if some of its new shows fail.

“If one or two of our shows falter, as they always do, we are going to be covered,” he said.

On the content side, Moonves touted the strength of CBS Television Studios and that the network now owns more than 50% of what gets on the air.

“We’ve made more deals with top writer-producers,” he said. “As we go down the road its important that we are self sufficient, but that we buy from everybody and the best shows get on the air.”

He said the Showtime comedy “Californication,” a risque comedy starring “X-Files” alum David Duchovny, has fetched $700,000 per half-hour episode in international sales.

He struck a conciliatory note on the negotiations to renew Showtime’s pic output deal with its one-time sibling studio Paramount.

“We will be buying feature films from other people and renewing some of those contracts,” Moonve said.

CBS’ plans to launch its own film unit is starting to come together but still at least a year away from releasing its first production.

Moonves said the company plans to produce four to six films a year in the $20 million to $60 million range that the company would finance itself or with investors.

“Outside financing is still knocking at the door, but if we don’t get the right deal we will finance it ourselves,” he said.

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