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UBS Media Conference: CBS Sees Ad Rebound, Predicts Strong 2010 Upfront

CBS Corp.'s broadcast network is finally reaping the benefits of an advertising rebound, and will be able to grab even more ad dollars once Nielsen is able to count viewing to other platforms, said CEO Leslie Moonves, speaking at the UBS Global Media Conference in New York. He also noted that the company's flagship, the CBS network, only had five to six spots left to sell for next year's Super Bowl.

The network has also been taking back promo spots from the marketing department to accommodate the demand from advertisers even as pricing runs 25% above the upfront. Moonves said CBS had three extra spots in prime and two in late night to fill demand for airtime. He said a few other networks were also in the same boat. CBS has added $100 million in volume in the fourth quarter as a result of the high demand.

Mentioning hits such as NCIS: LA and The Good Wife, Moonves said the network was strong even if long-running shows such as CSI begin to decline. "We're having a grand slam year," he said noting support for all that Nielsen is doing to back C3, commercial ratings, DVR measurement and future online numbers. "When you see the live plus seven audience, overall audiences are not down." He continued: "Our job is to get them counted and that's beginning to happen."

Even the local stations are starting to see plus signs. "The local TV stations are in the plus category, excluding political for the first time in a couple of months." He added that automotive was doing much better but cautioned, "We're not back yet." Even so, the executive suggested that the high scatter pricing would lead to a more healthy upfront in 2010. "The price of poker is now up 25% from what you paid in June. Next year you'll buy more in the upfront," he said.

Moonves said he was glad to hear Comcast issuing support for retransmission payments now that it has a deal to acquire a 51% stake in NBC Universal; these payments are made by distributors to cable operators to carry content. Traditionally those fees have not been shared by broadcast networks, only cable channels. "That will be the second revenue stream," said Moonves. CBS has completed retrans deals that also include carriage for its Showtime pay-TV channel with Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and Dish.

As for how any new revenue would be split with non-owned station affiliates, Moonves told Broadcasting & Cable, "Nobody has a fixed amount," explaining that many factors affect how negotiations would go, including how much stations pay in reverse compensation and what they kick in to NFL payments. Such a figure is yet to be hammered out. "We want the affiliates to stay strong. It is not our goal to cripple them." When asked why CBS doesn't just transmit directly via the MSOs, Moonves explained that it's because CBS has a strong commitment to local businesses, given its ownership of TV, radio stations and billboards in local markets.