Many analysts like to predict that this is the year the broadcast networks finally kick the bucket. Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. said he's heard that sentiment every year since he's been in the TV business, but still thinks, "we're the best game in town."
That came during the Hollywood Radio and Television Society's latest edition of its Newsmaker Luncheon series "A Conversation With...Leslie Moonves," where Moonves argued that broadcast is still king of the TV landscape. "I think the broadcast model is better than it was five years ago."
He also defended CBS against critics who argue that its an older-skewing network full of procedurals, saying it doesn't solely rely on getting a good rating in the targeted 18-49 demo because that's only a piece of the viewer pie.
"Just basing the world on an 18-49 is an untrue measurement," he said. "We don't sell our schedule solely on 18-49." One of the examples Moonves pointed to was the network's cop drama, Blue Bloods. While it doesn't rate that well in the demo, it's the highest-rated show on Friday's in terms of overall viewership, he said. "We don't sell that show to 18-49, we sell it to 25-54."
While CBS has had success in primetime, its news division has lagged behind, but even that may be turning around. Moonves pointed out that since the switch from Katie Couric to Scott Pelley, the ratings for CBS Evening News have gone up. "The evening news, something that was proclaimed dead, it still watched by 22 million people," said Moonves.
As far as morning shows, CBS' Early Show has been stuck in third behind NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America. CBS is in the process of shaking up its morning news lineup with a new morning show, putting more emphasis on hard news rather than the softer stuff that the other networks tend to feature. "To do a poor imitation of the Today Show or GMA is not the way to go," said Moonves. "It's going to be a different kind of show."
Moonves said he is more concerned with the quality of his news division, rather than going after ratings-grabbing stories. "The news division is never going to be a major profit center, but we wouldn't be a network without it."
Despite the economic slowdown that's taken place since 2008, Moonves pointed out that his network hasn't really felt the sting. "Despite the analysts trying to say advertising is slowing down and there is a weakening of the economy, we're not seeing that," he said. "Network advertising remains very strong."
Another big source of income for the broadcast networks are retrans agreements with affiliates, especially with CBS, which is projected to bring in around $250 million in 2012. Moonves admitted that retrans payments will likely go up (he said they should have gone up a long time ago). "We always found it silly that we are getting paid less money than cable networks for showing the reruns of our shows."
With the television audience becoming more fractured by the day, Moonves still feels that there is a place for broad, wide-reaching content. "I still believe in the power of network television."
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