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CBS President and CEO Les Moonves

Les Moonves

So what does the man who green-lit “Survivor” have to say about the prospects for his network and its third-rated “Evening News”? What about CBS’s plans for its Web presence? Will there be an Internet-based comeback?

  • 9:40 a.m.: Moonves begins by discussing the recent CBS season preview for advertisers at Carnegie Hall: “You tell them why CBS is best; you show them clips. … Your ad staff then goes to work.” At the end of the day, Moonves says, “75% of the ad budget is locked in.” And then, the negotiations begin.
  • On programming: “People are not just looking to buy ‘CSI,’ but on all our partnerships as well, things that are online related to ‘CSI’ as well.” He mentions that CBS’s integrated-marketing plan includes the Web. Still, he says, the bulk of ad dollars come from the network, adding that “CSI” gets 25 million viewers every Thursday night. That said, Moonves adds: “We realize that if we live in a world that depends totally on CBS.com, we’d be dead. Which is why we’ve begun reaching out [to an] interactive audience.”
  • 9:45 a.m.: Walt asks if Moonves foresees a time in the next few years when someone will create a series on the Internet that draws enough of a critical mass of viewers that it becomes a hit. Moonves replies: “Clearly, the Web cannot be used as a storehouse of regurgitated content. We understand that, and so we hired a bunch of kids right out of film school. We gave them a bit of money and asked them to create some Web-based series. And some day one of them will catch on.”
  • On CBS’s syndication approach: “We have CBS.com, we have our stuff on iTunes. We feel the wave of the future is getting as much distribution as we can. We feel that we should be nonexclusive and get our content out there.”
  • 9:50 a.m.: Moonves: “We’re offering a selection of shows and also the ability to slice up our shows. I love it when people take 25 clips of David Caruso taking his sunglasses off in ‘CSI: Miami’ and string them together. There’s great promotional value in that. It’s only a positive for our company.”
  • What’s the CBS brand? Walt asks. Moonves says the network’s shows are its brands, the networks are not. “Our business is about putting the best shows we can on our network. We like to think of ourselves in a certain way, of putting on a certain kind of show, but if I could, I’d pluck shows from other networks.”
  • 9:55 a.m.: Moonves says it’s still important to CBS to have an evening news presence, it just needs to evolve. “It needs to remember that people are already informed of the news events of the day when they arrive home,” he points out. CBS’s job is to add to what they know, to continue the stories.
  • 10 a.m.: Walt: “How do you consume media?”

    Moonves: “I read the papers, I surf the Web. At the beginning of the year, I try to see at least two episodes of every show on our network. Am I surfing? All the time. I’m aware of the landscape. I’m a competitor, so I have to know whom I’m competing with.” 

  • 10:10 a.m.: In response to the question of whether there’s a creative way to do ads on Web video, Moonves says that there must be, adding that he doesn’t yet know what it will look like. Walt notes that ads in Web videos typically annoy the hell out of viewers, and wonders about the future of product placement.
  • 10:15 a.m.: On to the Q&A:
  • On out-of-home advertising: “CBS is the largest out-of-home advertising company in the U.S.” Moonves says it’s a “fabulous” business that they’re eager to continue to develop, particularly with investment in the digital realm. He mentions the CBS Outdoors billboard near the San Francisco Bay Bridge, which has been controversial with many there.
  • 10:20 a.m.: On “Jericho”: Moonves admits to filtering emails from “Jericho” fans outraged by the show’s cancellation. Walt: “Why listen to your viewers, right?”
  • Another question, why not just continue to produce the show and move it online?
  • 10:25 a.m.: On the impact of media consolidation on content: “Content today is as great as it’s ever been. This is another golden age of television.”
  • Will a company like CBS ever be comfortable allowing companies like Microsoft and Google to become intermediaries in their advertising sales process? Moonves says it already is. It likes a direct relationship with its advertisers, but it’s willing to experiment.

More coverage at The Wall Street Journal.

Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously referred to CBS as “third-rated” among networks, when in fact it has dominated the No. 1 ranking, according to Nielsen. Only the “CBS Evening News” ranks third among network news broadcasts.

Les Moonves Session Photos

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CBS President and CEO, Les Moonves, on stage with Walt Mossberg


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