CBS advertisers stay quiet amid Les Moonves investigation

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Allegations against Les Moonves have not produced calls for an ad boycott against CBS, the network he runs.
Allegations against Les Moonves have not produced calls for an ad boycott against CBS, the network he runs. Credit: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Advertisers are remaining quiet amid sexual misconduct allegations against CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.

More than a half dozen media buyers and other people familiar with the situation say marketers have not asked to remove any planned advertising from the network, even after the board of directors decided on Monday to allow Moonves to continue at the company while he is being investigated.

CBS's top advertisers, which according to iSpot.TV include Pfizer, Progressive, McDonald's and Quicken Loans, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Trivago, another big advertiser on the network, said in an email that the company does not disclose its buying practices when it comes to its advertising strategy. And a Geico spokeswoman declined to comment.

Moonves is being investigated following a New Yorker article that details sexual misconduct allegations from six women, including actress Illeana Douglas. CBS's board of directors said on Monday that it is in the process of selecting outside counsel to conduct an independent investigation, but did not suspend Moonves pending the results of the probe.

On Wednesday, the USC School of Cinematic Arts suspended Moonves from its Board of Councilors, according to The Hollywood Reporter, and plans to discuss further action when the board convenes in October. And the Times Up movement posted a statement on its Twitter account warning CBS that "we are watching."

By the end of the day, CBS announced that it had picked Nancy Kestenbaum at the law firm Covington & Burling and Mary Jo White at Debevoise & Plimpton to look into the allegations reported in The New Yorker.

The #MeToo movement hasn't generally triggered responses from advertisers, but that's mainly because the men exposed have been promptly fired or have stepped down. Both "Today" host Matt Lauer and "CBS This Morning" anchor Charlie Rose were fired shortly after accusations against them became public, before advertisers would have had time to alter their advertising strategy.

Visa and TransLink, the Vancouver transit system, did halt their relationships with Morgan Freeman in May after the actor was accused of engaging in inappropriate behavior that included making sexual comments about female employees and creating a toxic work environment at Revelations Entertainment, the company he runs with business partner Lori McCreary.

The majority of advertisers on "The O'Reilly Factor" pulled out in April 2017 after The New York Times reported sexual harassment allegations against its host, Bill O'Reilly. Fox News fired him that month.

The liberal watchdog group Media Matters, which was one of the organizations that led the O'Reilly boycott, doesn't expect to see a mass exodus of advertisers unless the independent investigation is not thorough, swift and transparent, says Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters.

That there isn't a rallying cry for marketers to exit CBS speaks to the maturation of the movement, Carusone says. "There's an understanding of the need for a clear process in dealing with these situations."

It's also significantly harder for advertisers to pull out of an entire network, especially one as big as CBS, than it is to boycott an individual show.

CBS ended the 2017-18 season as the most-watched TV network in total viewers for the 15th season of the last 16, drawing a prime-time average of just under 9 million viewers. It also came in second behind NBC in the 18-to-49 demographic, averaging a 1.5 rating. Including its two national NFL broadcast windows, CBS last season laid claim to seven programs that averaged north of 10 million viewers per week—more than NBC, ABC and Fox combined.

CBS is also consistently among the top suppliers of impressions among the adults 25-54 set, its target demo. Over the last decade, only NBC has beaten CBS in the annual race to serve up more members of the 25-54 crowd, and it's happened twice: first in 2016-17 and again during the most recent season.

So a broadcast-dependent client that puts some distance between itself and CBS does so at the risk of a whole lot of consumer impressions.

Contributing: Anthony Crupi

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