Super Bowl

CBS's Moonves: Next Year's Super Bowl Ads Will Get 'North of $5 Million'

Chairman Still Bullish on Broadcast: 'Network TV Cannot Be Replaced'

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Les Moonves
Les Moonves Credit: Nate Beckett/Newscom
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CBS Corp. chairman Les Moonves on Thursday made a characteristically bullish assessment of the strength of the Super Bowl marketplace, telling investors that a 30-second spot in the 2016 broadcast will cost at least $5 million.

Speaking on the media conglomerate's fourth quarter earnings call, Mr. Moonves congratulated NBC on its strong showing in Super Bowl XLIX, which boasted an average in-game unit cost of $4 million per :30. Noting that CBS will host the 50th installment of the NFL title tilt in February 2016, Mr. Moonves said that his sales team would top that mark.

"Five to six million dollars for a 30-second spot sounds pretty good to me," Mr. Moonves said. Later in the call, the CBS boss somewhat tempered his earlier statement. "We're going to get north of $5 million [for each] Super Bowl [ad]," he said.

The proclamation is consistent with Mr. Moonves' role as broadcast TV's most tireless booster. Three years ago, the executive told analysts that CBS would charge a then-record $4 million per spot in Super Bowl XLVII. (For the record, CBS came close to the mark, as the average unit cost for the game was around $3.8 million a pop.)

Football played a key role in CBS's Q4 and full-year 2014 earnings. The nation's most-watched network reported 4% ad sales growth in the Oct. 1-Dec. 31 period, as the revenue generated by its first season of "Thursday Night Football" helped ad $85 million to its coffers. According to CBS Corp.'s 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the broadcaster in Q4 took in $2.15 billion in ad sales revenue, up from the year-ago $2.06 billion.

The inaugural "TNF" package delivered 16.8 million viewers and a 10.4 household rating.

Total-year sales fell 4%, or $324 million, to $7.2 billion on tough comps with 2013, during which CBS hosted Super Bowl XLVII. According to Kantar Media, CBS booked $292 million in its most recent Super Bowl broadcast.

CBS is poised to once again close out the broadcast season as the No. 1 network among adults 25-54 and as Mr. Moonves noted, it's within shooting distance of the 18-49 title as well. "Despite not having the Super Bowl this year, we are very much in the running for the 18-49 crown," he said. Through Week 20 of the 35-week campaign, CBS is averaging a 2.5 in the 18-49 demo, trailing first place NBC by three-tenths of a ratings point.

Looking ahead to the upfront, Mr. Moonves made his usual predictions about CBS's dominance in the marketplace. "I feel very confident that we will once again lead in pricing and [dollar] volume," he said. Mr. Moonves also said that the scatter market was improving steadily: "The pacing of broadcast advertising has been building week in and week out."

CBS Chief Operating Officer Joe Ianniello later said that scatter pricing was up in "the high single digits" over the rates established in the upfront, and while that's nothing to sneeze at, it's a far cry from the 30% premiums CBS was writing five years ago. Mr. Ianniello said he expected scatter to grow stronger in the run-up to the 2015-16 upfront bazaar.

On the programming front, Mr. Moonves cautioned that, as in years past, there would be very little room for new series on CBS's fall schedule, before adding that the fresh content that does come onboard in September will be provided the best possible time slots to ensure success. CBS has already renewed three of its four new dramas for a second season.

As at least 15 CBS shows are likely to be brought back for next season, the network this winter will be making even fewer pilot orders than usual. Mr. Moonves said he anticipated CBS picking up eight comedy pilots and "eight or nine dramas."

An expansive Mr. Moonves also addressed the viability of the broadcast business at large, proclaiming that advertisers "can't live without" the reach afforded by the networks. "If GM wants to launch a new car, they need those 20 million people who watch 'NCIS'," he said. "Network TV cannot be replaced."