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Moonves Blurs Line In Sand on Retrans

5/30/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

CBS Corp. 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-TV providers, 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 at 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 last 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 MSOs 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 retransmission — others usually opt to swap carriage of their less-popular cable networks in lieu of cash for the broadcast network. But since its formal split with cable programming giant Viacom in 2006, CBS only has two cable properties in its stable — Showtime and CBS College Sports.

While CBS has its own strong slate of primetime and sports programming — it carries National Football League and college-basketball contests, for example — Moonves appeared reluctant to use those assets as weapons in a retransmission 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.”

Moonves also addressed CBS's $1.8 billion acquisition of CNET, saying the Internet company not only represents a foothold in a growing Internet segment, but would contribute significant revenue right from the start.

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.”

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