Leslie Moonves is Chairman and CEO CBS Corporation. He joined CBS in July 1995 as president of CBS Entertainment. From 1998-2003, he was President and CEO at CBS Television, then was promoted to Chairman and CEO of CBS Corp. in 2003. He now oversees the CBS Television Network, The CW, CBS Television Stations, CBS Television Studios, CBS Television Distribution, Showtime, CBS Radio, CBS Records, CBS Outdoor, Simon & Schuster, CBS Interactive, CBS Home Entertainment, CBS Films and more. During his tenure, CBS became America’s most-watched network. RBR-TVBR asked Les’ opinion on a variety of issues shaping and affecting the media business today, and why he’s such a big believer in—and defender of—broadcast television.
You seem to be the biggest believer in broadcast television. Why is that?
Broadcast television is still the best game in town. The value of pulling together the largest audiences continues to increase – especially with all the choices out there. Also, broadcast television is the best launching pad for creating hits and then selling them across multiple platforms, including streaming, domestic and international syndication, not to mention retransmission consent. So it’s a good business to be in, and I’d venture to guess that those who aren’t as bullish just haven’t had as much success.
Looking back, would you have done anything different in the fight with Time Warner Cable over retransmission consent fees?
No, I wouldn’t have done anything differently other than I wish we hadn’t gone dark. As was widely reported at the time, we had never gone dark before, and it certainly was not something we took lightly. It was reassuring that as people looked at the issue closely and really studied what we were asking for, most agreed that the path we chose was fair and despite it not being the most enjoyable summer, I’m very pleased with the outcome.
FOX announced that it’s not going to participate in the pilot process. What are CBS’s plans?
Pilot season still works for us. It may not be perfect, but the model works for those who continue to make the best content. It is an intense period of time for the producers and executives involved, but the pressure inspires great creative energy and the competition among pilots leads to the best shows being selected for the fall schedule. In fact, two important shows on our schedule benefitted greatly from the pilot process. CSI was the last script ordered that season and the last pilot delivered before our scheduling meetings. Those producers made very smart creative choices under pressure and created an outstanding pilot that won its way on the fall schedule. Another example was the Big Bang Theory, which had a different actress playing “Penny” in the original pilot. From there, we realized we had something special, but shot a second pilot, adding Kaley Cuoco. We also continue to develop programming year-round with series such as “Under the Dome” and “Extant,” both of which were developed off the traditional pilot season calendar and ordered straight to series from the script.
Sometimes CBS Radio gets overshadowed by your broadcast TV and cable interests. How’s the radio division doing? Is CBS committed to radio ownership, long-term?
Radio has been a part of CBS since its founding in the 1920s, and it remains a vibrant part of the Company today. Having the best local content is extremely valuable. CBS Radio continues to throw off a lot of cash and has a number of exciting, fast-growing initiatives such as our CBS Sports Radio Network and our events business which includes a partnership with the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center. Radio is also working closely with our television stations to grow its share of political ad revenue, including the mid-term elections this year. In addition, our stated strategy of focusing on the nation’s largest markets has worked for us, so if any adjustments are made going forward it would support that strategy.
NAB seems to have re-captured its mojo under Gordon Smith. What’s your take on NAB and how it’s doing in Washington?
I’m a big fan of Gordon Smith. Leading an industry as diverse as the broadcast industry where you have big markets, small markets, radio and TV is a challenge. From where I sit, he’s doing a great job staying true to our business and navigating technological changes while keeping an eye on the future and what is best for the industry. I have full confidence in his ability to communicate the importance of broadcasting’s agenda to Congress and the FCC. In addition, he and his team have done a terrific job advocating for local radio stations and their listeners. I look forward to continuing to work with Gordon and his team on these and other important initiatives.
Broadcasting seems to be the darling of Wall Street these days. How do you account for the remarkable surge in stock prices over the last year or so?
There are a number of factors at play, but as I’ve been saying for years, this is the golden age for content companies that create and own the best programming. Wall Street also recognizes that we are just beginning to find new ways to monetize our programming on new and emerging platforms. As the distribution landscape continues to grow, those of us who have the best content win. As has been proven time and time again, broadcasting remains the best way to launch content, so owning the content as well is a winning combination.
What’s your take on the new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler?
Chairman Wheeler has tackled a number of significant issues in his first months on the job. There are some in the broadcast industry that are concerned about the direction the Chairman is taking. While those concerns are understandable, I do appreciate the perspective he brings to the FCC – that of a business person. As he and his colleagues at the FCC address many issues, including the important and complex spectrum auctions and mergers, I look forward to continuing discussions with him about the importance of a free over-the-air broadcast system and the value that the CBS Television Network and CBS stations provide to communities day in and day out.
As you know, the FCC is charged with implementing legislation that allows broadcasters to voluntarily sell spectrum and get out of the business. Is CBS planning to participate in the incentive auctions?
CBS is not planning to participate in the auction. We do, however, want to make sure that once the auction is completed and our stations are repacked, that the same coverage area we had before is the same coverage we have after. Our viewers expect nothing less.
How’s the CBS relationship with its affiliates? Is that a partnership that still works in a world of Netflix and Hulu?
We absolutely believe in the CBS affiliate model. A strong affiliate body helps CBS, and vice versa. The success of the CBS Television Network has been good for our affiliates, and we’ve had a partnership that has grown over the years. The arrival of new distribution outlets and platforms opens up new discussions all the time, but we continue to have a terrific working relationship with our affiliates and look forward to growing our partnership.
You recently won the bidding for eight Thursday night NFL football games. Tell us about this process and how you might rearrange your primetime schedule to accommodate the games.
We submitted a very responsible bid that was greatly helped by our position as the number one network in America and the best possible platform to grow the NFL’s Thursday night audience. As I’ve said before, this deal wasn’t about the money we offered, it was about the partnership. CBS will now have 32 hours of additional NFL programming to strengthen our schedule across the week, and we gain the greatest promotional platform in the business to launch our fall season. Some of our Thursday night shows will launch later in the season, and others will move to another night of the week where they will grow the night’s ratings. We’ll have more original programming on throughout the year with fewer repeats.