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Moonves Bullish on Broadcast

CBS president and CEO Leslie Moonves expressed his belief once again in the sturdiness of broadcast as he faced investors at the Sanford C. Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference Thursday afternoon in New York.

Moonves called fall-2008 debutant Worst Week the best comedy pilot he’s seen in five years, said the CBS stations would continue to be active on the retransmission-consent front and reported that the network’s strength in every daypart had him “very optimistic” about broadcast TV’s ability to weather the nation’s economic doldrums.

“[Broadcast is] still the best game in town,” Moonves said. “If you want to reach a mass audience, it’s still the best place to go.”

Moonves also touted the performance of cable network Showtime, which he said increased its subscription base by 1.5 million on the strength of original shows such as Dexter and Californication.

He said the company’s fledgling theatrical-film division would remain modest in its ambitions, shooting for 4-6 movies per year that would cost $20 million-$50 million apiece. Moonves stated that the division makes business sense because the films can tap CBS’ broad advertising reach and be funneled to Showtime when their theatrical runs are over.

The CBS boss also shed a little light on the CNET acquisition from two weeks ago, saying that the deal -- bringing the likes of and CNET into the CBS fold -- boosts CBS’ digital revenues from $200 million to $600 million. CBS and CNET share few of the same top 20 advertisers, Moonves said, meaning that there was plenty of opportunity for the two to complement each other.

“For all of those who said CBS is not aggressive enough [on the digital front],” he added, “this is aggressive.”