Moonves: CBS Is Well Past 'Murder She Wrote' Days

Wants Credit for Digital Innovations

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- CBS President-CEO Leslie Moonves today said analysts and investors aren't giving his media empire the credit it deserves for modernizing.
Leslie Moonves
Leslie Moonves Credit: AP

Speaking at the "Outlook 2010" seminar hosted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr. Moonves was asked why CBS isn't getting more credit from Wall Street for its many digital innovations of the past six months.

"There is a perception out there that we are 'old media,' that we are stuck in the old days of being the network of Edward R. Murrow and 'Murder She Wrote,'" Mr. Moonves said. "When I took over CBS, Angela Lansbury was the sexiest woman we had on CBS. It's gotten a little better since then, fortunately."

Old company, new media
"But I think there's the perception, 'Oh they're in the old broadcast and old radio and old outdoor,'" he said. "Since we formed Jan. 3, we have probably done over 20 new-media deals. We did a Comcast deal. We've done a Google deal. We've done numerous deals with Verizon. We're doing video on demand on our own website. We did the NCAA basketball tournament."

The company took in $4.2 million in new revenue from advertisers supporting its March Madness webcasts, according to Mr. Moonves, who said he expected that figure to double next year.

"So we are able to take what is an existing great business, which is delivering great cash flow, and taking our content -- whether it be news, whether it be sports, whether it be entertainment -- and delivering it all over the place and getting paid in new ways for it," Mr. Moonves said. "As people really buy that we're as cool as Yahoo is, even though we're called CBS, I think then people will give us more credit on our stock."

If his analysis is correct, investors certainly haven't bought his story yet. Company shares closed yesterday at $25.79, down from an opening price of $26.27 Jan. 4.

The CBS mantra
In a wide-ranging question-and-answer session, Mr. Moonves also expressed confidence in terrestrial radio despite the loss of Howard Stern to satellite; called digital deals like that with Verizon the tip of an iceberg; and identified the company mantra as "getting paid in new ways for exactly what we're doing today."

Asked by an audience member about the departure today of Dan Rather after 44 years and the arrival of Katie Couric to anchor the "CBS Evening News," Mr. Moonves was pragmatic.

Once "60 Minutes II" was canceled and "60 Minutes" needed room for segments by Ms. Couric and CNN star Anderson Cooper, he said, CBS could only offer Mr. Rather a few "60 Minutes" slots.

"He wanted a bigger role, which we understood," Mr. Moonves said. "I'm sorry he's leaving us. I'm sorry for a lot of things. He had a very distinguished career. He's a man I respect and honor a great deal. I'm sorry it ended the way it did.

'Brand new ballgame'
"Katie Couric, I'm very excited about the prospect. I think it's changed the world of news. I think, right now, the evening news is now up in the air. It's a brand new ballgame, as well as it is for the morning news.

"Charlie Gibson has left, Katie Couric has left," he said, "Julie Chen is staying." That prompted laughs from the crowd; Ms. Chen, an anchor on the "The Early Show" on CBS, is married to Mr. Moonves.
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