Moonves: Weather Channel ‘Could Fit’ In At CBS

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NEW YORK – The Weather Channel is “something that could fit” in with CBS Corporation’s collection of television programming assets, the chief executive of CBS, Leslie Moonves said Thursday morning.

Acquiring the 25-year-old cable, satellite and telco TV network and its associated Web site “depends on the pricing,’’ Moonves said at the 2008 Media Summit at the McGraw-Hill Building.

The weather tracking and forecasting service is being auctioned off by its parent, Landmark Communications of Norfolk, Va. The purported price tag: $5 billion, which a company executive has defended and at least one Wall Street financial analyst has termed “achievable.”

Moonves did not say whether CBS has entered the bidding for The Weather Channel, which could be of interest to a wide range of media firms, including its broadcast TV rival, NBC. The NBC and CBS networks each have hundreds of local affiliates which could use the Weather Channel brand as a competitive difference on their individual forecasts.

“Everybody is kicking the tires,’’ Moonves said.

CBS is sitting on about $2 billion of cash, a fairly modest amount of debt  and is actively looking for acquisitions that make sense. “No question about it,’’ he said.

But the price has to be right.

Moonves said CBS was interested in acquiring Spanish language broadcaster Univision in 2006, but the $11.1 billion price that wound up being paid by a private equity consortium led by media investor Haim Saban was too high.

CBS does not own any networks that appear on basic cable television tiers of programming. Among its holdings are broadcast TV networks CBS and The CW; the multimedia networks now branded CBS College Sports Television, which appears on digital tiers of cable networks; and Showtime Networks, which are premium subscription services.

One acquisition that CBS has made in the past two-and-a-half years was, a European-based music service and community based on the Web, which the company paid $350 million to acquire.

Digital media is an area that CBS is focusing attention in its hunt for acquisitions, he said. And he noted that the Internet has not taken away dollars from CBS’ TV properties.

“We view it as additive, not subtractive,’’ he said.

One example: CBS’ presentation of basketball games from the NCAA college basketball championship this month, all of which will appear on a free Web video service called “March Madness On Demand.”

As a paid subscription service three years ago, the online video presentation of games brought in $250,000. When it switched two years ago to be open to all comers, the on-demand, on-the-Web service brought in $4 million of ad revenue; and last year that reached $10 million.

This year, Moonves said, that will more than double, to $23 million in advertising.

CBS will pull in an estimated $450 million of ad revenue from March Madness on its broadcast television network this year.