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CBS Chief Leslie Moonves: ‘I Don’t Care How You Watch Our Shows’

CBS chief Leslie Moonves defended his company’s plan to launch over-the-top service CBS All Access, saying the move is meant to make the network’s show available to as many viewers as possible.

“The only reason to go over-the-top is to make content available to people who are using mobile,” Moonves said during a Brand Matters keynote conversation with MediaLink CEO Michael Kassan at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Moonves said he had initially been opposed to the OTT idea when plans were initially proposed to him 18 months ago.

“Being the old school guy, I came up with 12 reasons why we shouldn’t do it,” Moonves said, but relented when he realized the demand for the company’s programming, including NFL games, on mobile platforms.

“That was the main reason,” he said, citing 10 million broadband homes. “This over-the-top offering enables everyone to watch our shows wherever,” he said. “It’s not bad to say there are other alternatives.”

But Moonves admitted he still wants to protect the way shows currently air on the network — and makes money from advertising. “We like the ecosystem the way it is and we want to continue it,” Moonves said.

The CBS All Access subscription service is $5.99 a month and provides live and on demand programming from its CBS broadcast network and local TV stations.

“As the defender of network television, it’s certainly appropriate that we’re at the forefront of new technology,” Moonves said. “I don’t care how you watch our shows, just watch them. We have to get content where people want to receive it.”

As for finding ways to monetize the OTT service, “It’s our job is to be all things to all people and we can attract advertisers across the board,” Moonves said.

With devices collecting more data on how audiences interact with entertainment, Moonves admitted that “data is spectacular. The more we know the better our decisions are.”

However, he was just as quick to caution that “it only becomes part of our decision making. There still has to be the human element that says, ‘This is damn good. The show works.’ (Data) can’t control what you put on (television). It still takes the programmers, the writers and producers. It still takes that magic to make a ‘Big Bang Theory,’ a ‘Homeland’ or a ‘Game of Thrones.’ These are spectacular creations that big data can’t produce. The day that stops is the day the machine will be making our content. We can’t let that day happen.”

Still, “to ignore that research of what your public wants is silly,” Moonves said.

Moonves stressed that new ways to measure ratings are still needed.

“Measurement systems are antiquated and we have to do things that are very different,” he said. “Overnight ratings are useless,” which has forced networks to become more patient. “The idea of success or failure is very different now” with social networks joining the measurement mix in how popular a show is. “We just have to be a little more patient.”

On Moonves’ goal of collecting $2 billion in retransmission fees by 2020, from non CBS-owned stations, Moonves said “it’s only fair that if you have more eyeballs you get paid more.”

Moonves noted that streaming platforms, including Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, have only created “positive steps for content makers. It’s because of the digital age that everything is so different.”

The conversation ended with a quick look ahead at the upfronts. “They’re not until May, but of course CBS will be up more than anyone else,” Moonves said.

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