Moonves Says Digital Rights Worth Fighting For

CBS CEO Says Time Warner Cable Was Living In The Past

An important aspect of its month-long carriage battle with Time Warner Cable was securing the digital future of content, CBS CEO Les Moonves said.

“It was important we take a stand. This is a stand about content and how content is sold and how it goes to our consumers and how it will be sold in the future when digital viewing could eclipse more traditional forms of television," Moonves said in an appearance on CNBC Wednesday morning.

CBS and Time Warner Cable reached an agreement and the broadcaster's programming -- signals for 13-owned stations, plus cable properties Showtime, TMC, Flix ad Smithsonian Channel -- was restored to Time Warner Cable subscribers Monday evening.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Moonves said: “One of the things we won, one of the things we were fighting for, is the ability to slice and dice our content all over the place. To put it on Netflix, to put it on Amazon, to let people binge view. That’s our inherent right to do that,” he said.

Moonves said that was important as viewing via digital sources increases and potentially surpasses traditional distribution.

“I’ve been in the network television business for 30 years. I’ve been hearing about the death of network television and the death of our product. That’s not happening. It’s just changing,” he said. “Is it evolving? Absolutely. But at the core it’s still creating hits for both network and cable.”

Moonves noted that young viewers on college campuses have few TVs and watch their shows online. “But they are getting measured, we are putting more advertising in, we are getting paid for that,” he said.

“The important thing is exactly that. At the point—and that point is coming very soon—where the advertising [rates] online will be the same as they are on the network, we don’t care where you watch the shows.” He put that timeframe as within three to five years.

Moonves said that overall, he was “very pleased with the deal” with Time Warner Cable. He said that he understood that the public probably resented both sides, but that it was important to get fair value for the top rated broadcast network from cable operators via retransmission consent.

He insisted that CBS’s demands were reasonable, labeling Time Warner Cable as a company that “resented the fact that a broadcast network should get paid.”

He added that Time Warner Cable “was “looking back at a day that was gone 20 years ago that no longer exists where networks are over the air and free and everyone should be able to have them.”

Moonves said that he prefers CBS to be available over the air, but that if companies like web-based Aereo and Time Warner Cable find ways not to pay for CBS content, it might have to cease broadcast and become a pay channel.

“We could do that if we were placed into a corner because of business reasons because of an Aereo or a Time Warner Cable saying they don’t want to pay us,” he said. “I think it is highly doubtful that that will ever happen but that threat is out there.”

Moonves was asked about Time Warner Cable’s call for the government to review retransmission rules in the wake of the long CBS blackout.  “To get the government involved is by far a really dumb thingm" he said. "That’s the last thing we want to do.”