UBS Global Media Conference: Moonves Says CBS Primed for New Content Economy

Content Is King, Says 'Eternal Optimist' And So Is CBS

The quality-content landscape is a vastly different animal than it was a few years ago, said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO, and CBS is extraordinarily poised to capitalize on its programming. The likes of Netflix, Apple, Amazon, cable and overseas distributors need hit shows, and Moonves emphasized that CBS network, not to mention sister services Showtime, has them in spades.

"We're looking at a variety of ways to get paid from things that truly didn't exist [a few years ago]," he told a UBS Global Media Conference audience at a packed Grand Hyatt ballroom. "The world has changed drastically the last few years. We can get paid for a new program 12 different ways. Five years ago, it was one or two."

Ever confident, and bullish on the evolving media business, Moonves shed light on CBS's increasingly close relationship with Netflix, while taking swipes at foes new and old -- including Two and a Half Men co-star Angus T. Jones.

While CBS has proceeded cautiously with Netflix, Moonves signaled the relationship is on solid footing.

"We are tipping our toe in the water with Netflix," he said. "We may be ready to proceed with more content there."

On the cable side, Moonves saluted entertainment president David Nevins and his creative team at Showtime for boosting the channel into the same creative discussion as HBO. "They're making a lot of money," he said. "It's a very good business to be in."

Moonves said CBS is playing a significant role in bolstering external cable channels through syndication. Big Bang Theory is on TBS "25 times a day," he quipped, while the NCIS franchise shows drive viewers to USA Network's originals. "They realize a hit on network is irreplaceable," he said.

CBS' standout programs, he added, play a starring role in overseas television as well -- where CBS pulls in around $1.1 billion a year, and growing.

Moonves also took some pokes around the media world. On Jones' disparaging comments about Two and a Half Men, he said, "That kid...gets $300,000 an episode to talk bad about me."

(Moonves later said he loved the publishing business, a relatively mannered industry where he doesn't "have any kids calling me filthy.")

Nielsen, he said, "needs to get better" to accurately measure viewing on the various platforms. The subscription TV operators, he added, pay the cable channels way too much in sub fees, compared to broadcast. If Time Warner Cable pays ESPN $5.25 a head, said Moonves, CBS is worth more. "We're going in next year for $7," he joked. "That sounds nice...that's a nice number."

Turning to morning news, Moonves expressed satisfaction in the progress CBS This Morning has been making. The audience is growing, he said, the profit gap between it and Today -- while still yawning -- is shrinking, and the show's content is solid. "I think it's the best show in the morning," said Moonves. "If you really want to know what's going on in the world, you watch CBS This Morning."

Moonves wrapped things up by saying he was bullish on the future. "I know people call me an eternal optimist" he said with a wide smile, "but I really am optimistic."