TV Upfront

CBS Saw 5% Volume Drop in the Upfront, Moonves Says

'Overnight Ratings Are Virtually Irrelevant Now'

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CBS President-CEO Les Moonves at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July.
CBS President-CEO Les Moonves at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July. Credit: Scott Eells/Bloomberg
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CBS Chairman-CEO Les Moonves said ad buyers in this year's upfront committed to spend 4% to 5% fewer dollars than they did in the negotiating season last year.

But "pricing was fine," said Mr. Moonves, speaking at Goldman Sachs' annual media conference and expanding on earlier comments he has made about the upfront.

CBS sold less ad time in the upfront than in prior years. Mr. Moonves said the network sold about 75% of its inventory, compared with about 79% the year before.

In 2013, CBS secured commitments between $2.5 million and $2.75 and price hikes between 7% and 8%.

Mr. Moonves also argued that the longtime currency of TV -- how many people saw a show last night -- have lost their power in an environment where viewers watch episodes days or even weeks later.

"Overnight ratings are virtually irrelevant now," Mr. Moonves said.

Mr. Moonves said commercial ratings that span the full week after a show first airs, the metric known as C7, had been was a meaningful part of the network's upfront deals. (The industry standard is still C3.) But Mr. Moonves is looking to go further, saying that CBS should get paid, in some capacity, for every ad viewed, no matter when it is watched.

The lackluster upfront ad market -- when networks look to secure a bulk of their ad commitments for the fall season -- was the topic of conversation during much of Goldman Sachs' conference on Wednesday.

Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman acknowledged some softness in the upfront as some major marketers changed their upfront strategy.

But he said Viacom Velocity, the company's integrated marketing team, helped drive upfront deals for the company.

Walt Disney's Jay Rasulo, senior exec VP and chief financial officer, said advertisers have been hesitant to commit dollars in the front end of the year. "They are holding on longer into the year but by the end of the year we are seeing them spend those dollars," he said.

Discovery Communications sold less of its inventory in the upfront, choosing to hold more back for the scatter market, said CEO David Zaslav. He said the company sold 49% to 50% of inventory compared with 55% last year.