Moonves skeptical of startups seeking content

Jeff Bewkes urges faster adoption of TV Everywhere

When Steve Jobs asked Leslie Moonves for programming to launch Apple TV, the CBS chief said thanks but no thanks. It’s his standard response, he said Thursday, when startups want content and say, “As we grow, you will grow.”

“I don’t do that. I say, ‘Give me half a billion dollars for my content.’ We own the content. They need our content and they know it. It’s what I said to Steve Jobs,” he told investors at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia media conference in Gotham.

Also at the confab, News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey played down rumors the conglom wants to launch a rival to ESPN; Time Warner chairman Jeff Bewkes urged faster adoption of TV Everywhere; and Disney CFO Jay Rasulo said the Disney Channel has replaced animated films as the Mouse’s standard bearer around the world.

“People say we’re going after ESPN. (But) we’re being prudent. ESPN is in a different game,” Carey said. However, “We think sports content really opens an array of opportunities for us, (and) I think there are an array of things we can do.” For one, News Corp. has been airing more sports on cable network FX.

Bewkes said TV Everywhere, which he was the first to champion, is successful “although we’d always like it to go faster.” Turner Broadcasting granted all operators rights for VOD and broadband delivery off the bat. “We thought it was the best way to get it adopted and get it in place in 100% of the homes, and as the renewals came up we would price it in,” he said. But other programmers are waiting until carriage deals expire to bring TV Everywhere rights into the mix. “They think it’s leverage in renewals,” Bewkes said. “I can only say that if you want to get paid for something, the more people use it, the more valuable it is.”

Moonves, touting the new CBS fall sked, sees the network landscape growing thornier. “This NBC group is better than the last NBC group. There is no doubt they will become more competitive,” he said. “I feel pretty good about what we are going to do. You never know how the season is going to end.”

“We are the least sexy network,” he said. “We get less buzz and less Internet activity. All we do is get more viewers and more money.” CBS owns a big chunk of its own content, but mostly dramas. He said he’d like CBS to own more comedies.

And, “If there’s any justice,” Showtime’s “Homeland” will win the Emmy for best drama this Sunday, he added.

Disney’s Rasulo, talking up the Mouse’s cable chops, underscored a big conceptual shift at the company in which the Disney Channel has become the most high-profile testament to the Disney brand around the world. “It used to be animated films. It’s now clearly the Disney Channel,” he said.

He said the Mouse’s decision to single out “The Avengers” from Marvel’s superhero basket and pour money into the franchise ended up being a great move. “Yes, we put out ‘Thor’ and ‘Iron Man,’ but we were really going to put the weight and breadth of Disney behind ‘The Avengers.'” Rasulo said.

“We didn’t expect $1.5 billion (in box office), but now that it’s happened, it has really validated the idea that this was the film to put all the effort behind,” he said. With TV spinoffs and consumer products, it’s following Disney Princesses, “Toy Story” and “Cars” as the conglom’s next company-wide juggernaut.