Speaking at a meeting organized by Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, the actor-turned-TV-kingpin tried to reinforce the notion that broadcast TV has a large role to play in the media world, no matter how many changes technology is forcing upon it.
A cheerleader for TV
Broadcast TV, said Mr. Moonves, is still "the big tent" advertisers need to alert consumers to new products and services and also to drive them to other media where they can gain a finer level of detail or information about how to make a purchase locally.
Mr. Moonves has long been a relentless cheerleader for the broadcast TV industry, even as the increasing penetration of broadband video and digital-video recorders allows aficionados of the boob-tube to watch TV in new ways. People can watch snippets of episodes on cellphones, download episodes off of iTunes and view programs days later while skipping past all the ads on a DVR. Mr. Moonves, however, shrugged those things off, portraying them as opportunities for CBS, not hindrances.
But that doesn't mean the network is without challenges. Mr. Moonves said he was not concerned about erosion of live viewing caused by DVR watching, but he still noted the time is fast approaching for networks to find new ways to count audiences who are watching TV programs by new means. A case in point, he said, was "Jericho," which the network agreed to bring back to its airwaves after hearing substantial outcry from viewers who watched the show via the web. Viewers, he said, needed to make their presence known when the show was airing on TV "because that's how we get paid." But he also acknowledged that measurement had to improve as audiences for CBS programs became more diffuse and tuned to a range of media outlets to partake of the network's content.
Leave Katie alone
He was peppered with questions during his time at the mic about Ms. Couric, who took the helm of the network's "CBS Evening News" this past season to much fanfare. Though Ms. Couric is the first woman to helm a network broadcast on her own, the program has suffered in the ratings and has changed producers.
"She has been the anchor for nine months. Let's give her a break," said Mr. Moonves after being asked several questions about the former "Today" show host and the future of the evening newscast on broadcast TV. Critics have placed too much emphasis on "her clothes ... who her boyfriend is," he said, and are missing an obvious point: The average audience age for network newscasts is "north of 60" and because of that, the format is "heading toward destruction" and demands experimentation.
"I would be very disappointed if there ever came a day when CBS didn't have a network news show," he said.
Mr. Moonves also tipped his hand about CBS's stance in the upfront market, suggesting the network was asking buyers to pay more for the cost of reaching 1000 people, a common metric in the marketplace for the bulk of network-TV's fall ad season. Unlike the web or mobile devices where people can get entertainment and information, broadcast TV has a broader reach, which is "why our CPMs are going up."
Media buyers expect "upfront" negotiations, where CPMs, or the cost of reaching 1,000 viewers, is a common negotiating measure, to start within days.