CBS's Moonves: Scatter Pricing Stays Even With Upfront

Volume of Ads off for NCAA Tournament Mainly Due to Auto Category

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NEW YORK ( -- CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves boldly predicted his company's flagship network would be able to eke out increases in the cost of ad time sold during this year's coming upfront sales season.

Les Moonves
Les Moonves Credit: CBS
Speaking to investors at a conference held by Citigroup in Arizona yesterday afternoon, Mr. Moonves said he believes the economy -- and along with it the fortunes of some of the nation's biggest advertisers, auto companies -- will begin to improve.

'Great opportunity'
"We view '09 as more positive, maybe, than most in terms of the auto category coming back," Mr. Moonves said. He also suggested that foreign automakers could look at the current economic situation, in which General Motors Corp., Chrysler and Ford Motor Co. are all dealing with difficult business challenges, as a "great opportunity to get more of the market share. They're going to have to do that through advertising, and we're excited by the possibility." He added later: "I am hopeful that advertising in the automotive category has hit rock bottom."

Mr. Moonves' cautious optimism suggests that media executives are looking for improved fortunes in the year ahead, particularly after seeing ad sales suffer in 2008. The recession has hurt retailers and automakers, along with many other advertisers, and media outlets have responded with layoffs across various sectors.

Even so, Mr. Moonves tempered his remarks by describing a TV-advertising landscape in which volume is less than what his company would like. He said pricing for so-called "scatter" ad time -- purchased much closer to air date and often sold for a premium -- is relatively flat with ad time purchased during the upfront, when marketers purchase about 80% of broadcast-network inventory. He cited CBS's annual broadcast of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, saying that sales "haven't been as strong. Pricing is fine, volume is not as high as it was. Once again, auto is a big category in that."

Relatively good position
The media chief suggested that CBS was in a relatively good position to reap ad dollars in the coming upfront, as the network has had a stable lineup and has shown ratings strength -- at least relative to its peers -- in the first half of the season. "The good news is that we went into '09 without one make-good. The minute there's a slight improvement in the marketplace, and we anticipate there will be, we are going to get the bulk of that revenue," he said.

As of Dec. 23, CBS had lost fewer live-plus-same-day ratings points among households than its rivals, according to analysis from Wachovia Capital Markets.

"I do expect increases in the upfront pricing," Mr. Moonves said. "What they will be I don't know, and it's way too early to predict that."

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