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Moonves Pushes Retrans

5/29/2008 12:01 PM Eastern

CBS CEO Les Moonves kept up his once aggressive stance regarding retransmission consent for his CBS television stations, telling the audience at an industry conference that although he expects cash from cable and satellite operators, the amount will depend on their past relationship with the network.

Moonves has been talking about cash for retransmission consent for years, and in the past has drawn a line in the sand, stating in past industry get-togethers that distributors could look to pay as much as 50 cents per subscriber, per month for the right to carry CBS stations.

But at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions Conference in New York Thursday, Moonves appeared to take a more neutral tone when it came to retrans negotiations.

CBS has already done about 20 deals, mostly with smaller cable operators. The network’s deals with bigger operators like Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t come up until 2009 and 2010.

“Not all deals are 50 cents; we’ve never really come out and said that’s the number it’s going to be,” Moonves said at the conference. “With each cable operator, depending on the number of subs and what other business we have with them, we will determine the appropriate rate.”

CBS would be the first major broadcast network to seek cash for retrans—others usually opt to swap carriage of their less popular cable networks in lieu of cash for the broadcast network. But CBS, since its formal split with cable programming giant Viacom in 2006, only has two cable properties in its stable—Showtime and CBS College Sports.

While CBS has its own strong slate of prime time and sports programming—it carries National Football League and NCAA college basketball contests, for example—Moonves appeared reluctant to use those assets as weapons in a retrans fight.

“The important thing is that we will get paid,” Moonves said. “These deals have been made without a lot of noise, without a lot of threats. The MSOs are our friends. We welcome them. We don’t want to say, ‘Hey you could lose the Patriots or the Jets game this Sunday, we’re going to pull it off.’ Hopefully it doesn’t come to that and I don’t believe it will.”

Moonves also provided a little more color regarding CBS’s $1.8 billion acquisition of CNET, adding that the Internet company not only represents a foothold in a growing Internet segment, but would contribute significant revenue right from the start.

Moonves said that CBS began looking at CNET “a while back,” and noticed that adding the Internet company would immediately add scale to CBS’s own Internet operations and boost Internet revenue from $200 million annually to $600 million annually. In addition, Moonves said the two companies had complementary brands and different advertising bases

“There was a certain help we could bring to each other both in content, sales and advertising,” Moonves said, pointing to CNET’s TV.com Web site as an example.

“TV.com is already one of the highest used, if not the highest used TV Internet site,” Moonves said. “You put that with CBS content, we think it explodes.”

It was the CNET acquisition that some observers said caused CBS to back out of the auction for The Weather Channel. While Moonves didn’t say whether CBS is out of the running, he referred to the network’s pursuit of the channel in the past tense.    

“Was there a potential fit for the Weather Channel? Sure,” Moonves said. “Could we have programmed Oxygen? Absolutely. We looked at that.”

September