CBS Presses for New Revenue for Content as TV Advertising Appears in Flux

Leslie Moonves
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As Madison Avenue’s support for traditional TV advertising appears to shift, CBS Corp. is likely to seek ways to maximize payments for the big-audience programs it creates from other content purveyors, the company’s chief executive suggested Wednesday in a talk with investors.

CBS Corp. chief executive Leslie Moonves described a market in which demand for top-tier programming is robust, a dynamic likely to fuel the revenue his company can secure from cable networks, streaming-video distributors, TV stations and international media outlets eager to woo big viewing audiences. At the same time, he noted, advertisers appear to be placing more emphasis on digital media. That would imply the company’s flagship broadcast network must work harder for the ad dollars it secures each year.

He made his remarks Wednesday at an investor conference organized by Goldman Sachs.

CBS saw the volume of advance advertising commitments placed during the recent upfront market fall by 4% to 5%, Moonves estimated, though the company was pleased with the pricing it was able to establish for its fall lineup. In last year’s market, CBS secured approximately $2.5 billion and $2.75 billion in advance commitments in 2013, according to Variety estimates.  CBS sold approximately 74% to 75% of its advertising inventory, compared with a more typical 79%, Moonves said, which means the network will have to press harder to sell so-called scatter advertising, or ad inventory sold closer to air date.

Moonves predicted advertisers would always stick with a broad-based venue like CBS, though they may pull some support for niche cable outlets over time. CBS expects to add advertising revenue in the future by doing deals that call for payment for viewers who watch programming on a time-delayed basis. The company is also working to create chances to insert relevant advertising digitally into programming that is viewed or streamed days or even weeks after its original broadcast.

In the meantime, CBS is pursuing aggressively the chance to gain revenue for the content it produces from a host of players who were not at large only a matter of a few years ago. Just a few years ago, he said, “there was no Netflix, no Amazon. Retrans was just beginning. The international marketplace wasn’t nearly as vibrant as it is today. Looking forward, you look at the potential for a Sony” or other operator to get involved in digital distribution – “all of whom are going to need our content.” Every time one of the new players opens “a new market for their product, we are always part of it,” he said.

As an example, Moonves cited programs such as “The Good Wife” and “Blue Bloods,” both of which were sold to a streaming-video player as well as more traditional outlets, like cable networks or broadcasters.

Separately, the CBS executive said his company was open to the idea of making premium-cable outlet Showtime available via streaming to people who did not already subscribe to a cable or satellite distributor. “Is there some time in the future that could happen? Absolutely,” he said.

He also indicated that Tribune, the company that recently spun off its newspaper assets and is led by former Fox executive Peter Liguori, was seeking more of a say in the operations of the CW. Tribune’s stations are one of the biggest distribution vehicles for the network, which is owned jointly by CBS and Time Warner. Liguori “would like to participate and he has some good ideas. He’s part of our team,” said Moonves. “Will there be some changes in how CW is structured going forward? I don’t know, but Tribune is an important part of our future.”