CBS’ Moonves Receptive to Nielsen


CBS CEO Les Moonves said he welcomed Nielsen Media Research’s decision to begin tracking television commercials and television-programming viewership within college campuses, telling analysts Thursday that it will only boost the broadcast network’s ratings.

Late last month, Nielsen said it would begin tracking national TV commercials starting Dec. 11. Cable operators have opposed the system because they claim it is seriously flawed and will produce inaccurate data.

On a conference call with analysts discussing third-quarter results, Moonves noted that cable operators have opposed the Nielsen move, but he hinted that it may not be because they feel the data generated will be incorrect.

“If you have noticed, cable is vehemently opposed to this. That’s because our studies show us that broadcast commercials are watched with a lot more attention than perhaps cable is,” Moonves said on the call. “We think the more people who are aware of what the ratings are on the commercials on our television shows, the better off we’re going to be. We like precise ratings.”

Moonves added that a separate Nielsen plan to begin counting viewership in college dormitories beginning Jan. 29 will only boost CBS’ ratings. He said campus viewers of CBS’ coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament were not counted in the past.

“When you think about our long-term deal with the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the fact that we have not gotten credit for one single viewer on a college campus all of this time, that says to us that when we start getting college numbers, we’re going to be way up,” Moonves said. “The same for Letterman. We’re going to get a lot more dollars out of that marketplace. The more Nielsen grows, the better it is for us and we’re encouraged by both of these things.”

CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman has been a perennial late-night TV favorite on college campuses.

For the quarter, CBS reported mixed results -- revenue was flat at $3.4 billion and operating income before depreciation and amortization (a measure of cash flow) was up 3% to $755.9 million. Free cash flow -- cash flow after capital expenditures and interest payments are made -- was up 65% to $431.8 million.

The growth was primarily driven by its outdoor and television divisions, which offset declines at its radio properties.

At its television unit -- including the CBS broadcast network and its owned-and-operated TV stations -- revenue was flat at $2.2 billion and OIBDA increased 9% to $457.1 million. Outdoor revenue rose 9% and OIBDA increased 20% in the period, more than offsetting a 6% revenue decline and a 10% drop in OIBDA at its radio unit.