CBS's Moonves On Strike Talks: "We're Quite Far Apart."

CBS CEO Les Moonves offered little optimism that anything approaching a deal will emerge from the strike talks, which resumed today. “I am hopeful, but not terribly optimistic. We are quite far apart. Digital media is the key issue,” he said at UBS Media Week. And it’s not just the studios and the writers that are far apart on digital. CBS’s digital strategy under Quincy Smith envisions a clips-driven world on the web, while other Hollywood studios, namely News Corp. and NBC U, see repurposed, ad supported TV as the model.

Moonves said something else the AMPTP is hoping doesn’t trickle into the negotiation room. A sticking point in the talks is that the studios want to be able to classify any clip or show distributed on the web as “promotional,” and thus not eligible for residuals. But Moonves said CBS views its YouTube channel as “a promotional tool that we can also make money on.” Making money on web promos? Les, don’t tell that to the writers!

More notes from Moonves after the jump.

1:07: Someone had to ask the “what keeps you up at night” question. Moonves’ answer: Quincy.
“Quincy (Smith) comes into my office three times every day and I understand about 50 % of what he says. I’m a control freak and I like to now every nuance of every business we’re involved in, obviously that’s now impossible. We’ve got a group of young people heading into the digital age and that’s what keeps me up at night.”

1:04: Les says CBS views YouTube as “a promotional tool that we can also make money on.” Making money on web promos? Les, don’t tell that to the writers!

12:59: The inevitable “Google: friend or foe” question is asked. Les answers:
“We are controlling advertising in our dealings with Google. Google cannot be ignored–they are a major force of nature. We have a CBS channel on YouTube–we do sell advertisements and we get paid for clips.”

12:52: On acquisitions: We like networks, we like the TV station business. We are making acquisitions monthly in outdoor. Looking for acquisitions in digital–it’s a guessing game, when you see the price paid for 10% of Facebook.”

Les says CBS looked at acquiring Endemol (producer of Big Brother) as a way of making inroads internationally by exporting popular reality and gameshow formats.

12:46: Already seeing political spending at the stations. He says spending looks very heavy in December and January in advance of Feb. 5 Super Tuesday. “We like the fact that there are lots of candidates with lots of money behind them. We do not want election reform.” (laughter)

12:43: Les says we’ve probably hit bottom on the radio business and there should be some lift in the business next year. Plus, he says, “thereĀ  is some serious revenue coming out of (radio) streaming. We are getting brand new revenue from that.”

12:38: Calls Quincy Smith a “force of nature.” Ok, Quincy. Says Quincy believes in clip-driven culture on the Web, rather than “regurgitated TV content.” “Most of this is about clips and not about full episodes–and I’m not saying this because of a writer’s strike.”

12:36: On the film front, “the development process has begun in terms of buying properties.” Says the first CBS film will be out in a year-and-a-half. Plans to produce 4-6 per year, budgets under $50m. Showtime gets post-theatrical window and then network TV.

12:33: Showtime gained 1 million new subscribers in the past year, its best ever. Says we get more subs from “Weeds” than from a new package of movies, though he says he plans to renew the Paramount output deal.
By the same token, he says, “we intend to launch our own movie company” to produce films for Showtime.

Showtime’s “Californication” sold into syndication for $800k per half hour, a record.

12:30: Reiterates the party line on the scatter market: rates up big, as much as 35% above the ad rates sold in the May Upfronts, “so we’re doing fine.”

12:25: More on strike talks: “We look at the future as being bright. We want to share that with (the writers.). Without the writers, directors and actors we would not have content. Right now we do not know what the (digital) pie is. we want to share in that pie. We are looking for movement today. It’s important that both sides stay in the room.”

12:20: UBS Analyst Lucas Binder kicks it off by asking Moonves about talks with the Hollywood writers, scheduled to resume today.

Moonves: “In a half hour they’re going back to the table after a five-day lull in the negotiations. I am hopeful, but not terribly optimistic. We are quite far apart. Digital media is the key issue.”

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