Moonves puts Dish Network on notice

Threatens to yank Eye from satcaster over Hopper DVR service

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves kicked off Wall Street’s fall conference season by laying down an ultimatum regarding Dish Network’s Hopper DVR service and touting the strength of the Eye’s advertising biz as the presidential race heats up.

The AutoHop feature on Dish’s new Hopper DVR makes it super easy for viewers to skip through all commercial spots on primetime network shows.

“Hopper cannot exist,” Moonves told investors at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media Conference Wednesday. “If Hopper exists, we will not be in business with (Dish). We cannot produce episodes for $3.5 million a piece and have the people at Dish say they will pull out the commercials. We will not be on Dish. We will go elsewhere.”

Moonves talked of “money rolling in” from political advertising ahead of the presidential election but said it’s early to gauge the overall market before the new TV season starts.

“Every day they’re writing a few million dollars. It’s coming in a little bit later (but) it’s very healthy,” he said of political ad spend, noting CBS local station strength in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan and California.

Moonves said half of local ad revenue comes from primetime and late night, which haven’t started yet. “People are waiting to see results and who delivers,” he said.

To financial folk who came seeking clarity on ad trends, digital content and possible deals in the media space, he said tune in two weeks from now. “As soon as there are some clear winners and losers the market starts to change. It happens fairly quickly,” he said. “We’re ready to go. Let the games begin. We feel a lot of the scatter market will come our way.”

He said cancellations from the upfront to now have been minimal.

The main story in the market continues to be the return of the automakers. “The fact that they are back has changed the whole climate,” he said.

In other categories, “some are up some are down, nothing else stands out either way particularly good or particularly bad.”

He said the Super Bowl in February is 90% sold out for up to $4 million a spot, way ahead of where it was when the net last aired in three years ago.

Non-advertising related revenue led by retransmission fees and reverse compensation will be north of $250 million this year, he said, and hit $1 billion by 2017 if not sooner.

Over the past year, CBS also took in over $1 billion in international content sales.

As for deals, he said “there’s no burning desire on our part to acquire anything” but hinted that cable nets would be attractive to him.

“We are a content company, the number one television network. Looking down the road you always say ‘Could we manage some of the cable assets that are out there better than other people?’ Absolutely. Would we like to add a general cable channel? Perhaps. We are programming people. We know how to do this.”

At the same time, Moonves left no doubt about where his focus remains.

“Cable networks like to talk about their original content but ‘NCIS’ is still the highest rated show on USA,” he said, and “The Big Bang Theory” on TBS. “I know there’s a lot of bells and whistles, (but) the originals are following the big shows off-network.”

Moonves once again defended CBS’ conservative stand on selling content. “We are still very protective of our content. Other networks (who aren’t) aren’t in first place,” he said. Putting too much out there could threaten the company’s core revenue streams from advertising, domestic and international syndication and retransmission.

“All are buckets that are potentially in jeopardy if you put their content out there too much and too soon. We are more conservative (but) our business model is working for us. Our network is very profitable.”

CBS has no plans of offer pay cabler Showtime as an over-the-top service. “We like the ecosystem as it is,” he sad.

He expects CBS will ink a program licensing deal with Comcast’s Streampix digital service. “We like them,” he said.

Asked about news, he acknowledged that years of on-and-off attempts to join forces with CNN, which he didn’t name, had fizzled but implied he’s still be willing to do a deal. “They can reach out and we’ll take their call.” He said the status of CBS News is much higher now than it was two to three years ago. “Scott Pelley’s ratings are up significantly from his predecessor, whose name I will not mention.”