Moonves Won’t Reveal Numbers for All Access

CBS’ normally talkative CEO Les Moonves declined to say how many people have subscribed to the company’s over-the-top service.

Speaking at the 42d annual UBS media conference on Tuesday, Moonves would say only that CBS All Access was “ahead of projections,” but acknowledged that could mean as few as 10 subscribers.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with the product,” he said, adding that its subscriber base would grow as more affiliates sign up to provide a live feed of their stations’ programming over broadband. He added that the price of the service could change when CBS’ NFL games are added. He also said other content providers had inquired about making their programming part of the package.

Pressed for a hard number of subscribers, Moonves replied, “When Netflix tells you how many people are watching House of Cards, we’ll tell you how many subscribers we have.”

Moonves was also pleased with another new digital product CBSN, the online news channel. He noted that viewership went up when the Ferguson, Mo., story broke.

The goal with All Access — as well as a Showtime over-the-top service to be introduced next year — is for CBS to be prepared for the future. But Moonves said that CBS didn’t want to go around the cable operators and other distributors it currently works with.

“We’re going to the broadband homes directly. The broadband homes exist whether we have all access or not. It's not to circumvent a Dish when you go dark on them,” he said. Moonves noted that the CBS blackout on Dish Network ended just before the SEC Championship game was to be broadcast, illustrating the power of football. Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen went to an SEC school, he added. “If Tennessee was in the finals we could have gotten another time.

Moonves was bullish on CBS’ performance so far this season. He said that after a slow summer for the ad market, CBS was doing extremely well in scatter. “With the ratings we’re getting we have no trouble selling inventory,” he said.

CBS’s chief research officer David Poltrack told the conference on Monday that the broadcasters would have limited growth this year. But Moonves said that “all networks are not created equal” and that most of that growth would come to CBS, as opposed to NBC, which had the Olympics last year.

Moonves said CBS would also have growth in late night next year after David Letterman retires. Letterman owned the shows CBS aired in late night, which limited CBS’s financial return. The network will own the new late night show hosted by Stephen Colbert, who is also big online. “The cost will be less. Colbert’s a rookie, but a well proven one.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.