CBS Beats Street Estimates With Q4 Earnings, Touts Focus As ‘Pure Content’ Company

Leslie Moonves talks Thursday NFL deal, plan to temporarily relocate 'Big Bang Theory'

Big Bang Theory

“The Big Bang Theory” will be on the move this fall as CBS makes room on its Thursday lineup for a package of NFL games.

CBS Corp. chief Leslie Moonves disclosed the Eye’s revised fall season launch strategy on Wednesday during an earnings conference call with investors. CBS impressed Wall Street with numbers billed the company’s highest-ever fourth quarter and full-year results.

“The Big Bang Theory,” the most potent weapon on CBS’ primetime sked, will likely move to another night for the first few weeks of the season. CBS earlier this month cut a one-year deal with the NFL to carry eight games on Thursday.

That means CBS’ regular Thursday lineup won’t premiere until late October or early November. But don’t expect “Big Bang,” 10 p.m. drama “Elementary” and other shows to be on ice until then.

“We’re not going to wait until November — ‘The Big Bang Theory’ will be on the air on some other night, and it will grow the ratings and rates on that night,” Moonves said. 

The other big surprise from the call was Moonves’ assertion that the Eye will reap some $2 billion in retransmission consent revenue by 2020. That’s a bold leap from the company’s previous retrains guidance of hitting $1 billion by 2015. But Moonves said he’s confident in hitting that benchmark because of the deals now being struck and the number of MVPD contracts coming up for renegotiation in the next few years.

Moonves and CBS chief operating officer Joseph Ianniello also emphasized the company’s tilt toward a more even mix of revenue coming from advertising and non-advertising sources. In the past CBS had been more vulnerable that its showbiz peers to downturns in the broader economy because so much of its revenue depended on advertising. In 2013, even with CBS having the advertising influx from carrying the Super Bowl, the Eye garnered 42% of its revenue from non-advertising sources. And non-advertising revenue sources are growing at a faster clip than advertising-based businesses.

Indeed, CBS has been buoyed for the past few years by the windfall of profits from digital content licensing deals and by domestic and international sales of CBS-produced series such as “Hawaii 5-0,” “NCIS” and the “CSI” franchise.

As it prepares to spinoff its outdoor advertising assets later this quarter, CBS is also becoming even more content-centric than it has ever been. With demand from digital and cable outlets for off-network acquisitions, it’s a seller’s market.

“The sky’s the limit,” Moonves enthused. “With all these players demanding our programming, the more good stuff we make the more good deals we’re going to make.”

With upfront advertising selling season approaching, Moonves was more cautious that usual about predicting the network’s gains when  the wheeling and dealing begins.

“We will lead the marketplace in pricing and volume,” he said. “I won’t make specific predictions…which will be a major source of relief to our sales department.”

The Eye topped Wall Street estimates for earnings per share (78 cents, up 22%) and revenue ($3.9 billion, up 6%) on the strength of content licensing and distribution revenues, even as advertising coin remained relatively flat with the year-ago period.

As the Eye moves ahead with plans to spinoff its outdoor advertising assets, the Eye will soon become more focused as a “pure content company.” The glowing fourth-quarter and full-year 2013 earnings, Moonves asserted, affirm “CBS’ stature as one of the world’s foremost creators of premium content.”

Putting its money where its mouth is, CBS also unveiled an accelerated stock buyback program for this quarter, committing another $1.5 billion to scooping up its own shares.

For the quarter, CBS blew past analyst estimates of revenue in the $3.8 billion range. The Eye delivered adjusted net earnings of $477 million, up 15% from the year-ago mark.

For the year, CBS revenue climbed 8% to $15.28 billion. Adjusted net earnings reached $1.89 billion, or $3.02 per share — marking the first time the Eye has delivered full-year earnings of more than $3 a share.