Les Moonves: No price cuts here!

March 3, 2009

CBS’s stock may be in the tank (now under $4 a share),  but Chief Executive Les Moonves is still pretty darn optimistic. That may be because his network — home to the “CSI” franchise, “Survivor,” and “The Mentalist” — is the only one of the big four that’s been pulling in more prime-time viewers. For months it has been crushing ABC, NBC, and Fox in the ratings game.

What’s the payoff? CBS won’t have to make wholesale changes to its 2009-10 schedule and should be able to hang on to more advertising dollars than its rivals,  Moonves told an audience at the Deutsche bank Deutsche Bank Annual Media & Telecommunications Conference.

Moonves figures CBS will need to shoot six fewer pilots than it did a year ago, and bring only 2 or 3 new shows to air next season. He also says that with known hits — like “The Mentalist” — and few question marks about its schedule the network should fare well in this spring’s upfront market.

What’s more, if advertisers get too skittish, CBS will simply hold back inventory during negotiations, Moonves said. “”We’ve never been afraid to play the scatter game,” he said. “My guess is there will be a little less volume going into the upfront.”

Of course, CBS has also been burned by holding back inventory and betting on stronger prices later in the year for the scatter, or spot, market. Remember 2001’s upfront? CBS cut its inventory, bet on the scatter market, and was hurt when advertising fell apart that fall after the attacks of Sept 11.

Still, Moonves sounded confident. “We will not reduce our prices,” he declared.

And he wasn’t about to apologize for CBS’s programming choices, which some say are too vanilla. “Do we program for Middle America? Yeah.  We’ve heard for years that we have too many procedurals. But we’ll keep doing them until America tells us to stop doing them. All I know is we keep getting base hits. Our on base percentage is phenomenal.”

Keep an eye on:

  • Microsoft Corp is testing a new version of its online search service internally under the name of Kumo.com (Reuters)
  • Thomson Reuters Corp will launch a video news service in June for financial professionals who use its terminals, part of a $1 billion plan to appeal to a new generation of customers (Reuters)
  • Live Nation posts wider loss on writedown, but sees healthy 2009 ticket sales (Reuters)

(Photo: Reuters)

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