CBS Films insiders confirm that about three weeks ago, CBS Films co-president Wolfgang Hammer quietly segued to become a consultant focusing on digital content. Among the youngest production presidents of a major company ever, Hammer ran the film division with Terry Press, who is alone at the top. Under Hammer, Les Moonves’s boutique film label went from an original mission to create homegrown films, and became a significant player in the acquisitions game in the last few years while the original productions percolated, often with good results. Last Vegas, a homegrown film, was a sleeper hit, and the label made its highest profile acquisition when it paid $4 million for Inside Llewyn Davis. That movie didn’t garner Oscar love in the major categories after the prestige folk music film got a rousing reaction at Cannes last year and won the Grand Prix, but it got CBS Films its first ever Oscar noms and Golden Globes, and grossed just north of $13 million domestic. That number could have been higher had Oscar voters embraced it more fully, the way critics did. The label has made other big festival buys including the Toronto acquisition Salmon Fishing in the Yemen to put itself on the map.
The label has What If opening in August, Pride in September and just wrapped the teen comedy The Duff for a February opening. One potential gem it hasn’t been able to get into production is the series of bestselling novels by author Vince Flynn featuring counter terrorism operative … Read More »
“It certainly feels good to win as decisively as we did,” CBS chief Les Moonves told Bloomberg Television’s Trish Regan in a victory lap after the Supreme Court sided with broadcasters’ challenge against Aereo. The case “wasn’t about technology. It was about theft,” he says. Consumers will benefit from broadcasters’ ability to continue paying for entertainment, sports, and news. CBS expects to collect $2B in retransmission fees in 2020. “And all that’s important here is that broadcasters and cable content companies and everyone who’s involved with the content producing business gets paid appropriately for their content. And that somebody can’t come and take that content, charge for it, and not pay us back for that content. So it’s a very good day for our future.”
The CBS chief called the streaming service “the lovely Aereo,” in a conference call with analysts. And he continues to insist that he’s “not losing any sleep” over it. But it seems that Les Moonves has spent several waking hours considering what he might do if the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Aereo’s right to stream broadcasters’ free, over-the-air transmissions — which he and other TV companies insist is a form of theft. “We have deals with most of our [pay TV distributors] for a long, long time to deliver our content,” he says. In addition “we’re thinking about over the top, delivering directly to our consumers [via the Internet]. We’re talking about doing Aereo among ourselves if it became viable.” Analysts didn’t follow up to ask how that might affect CBS affiliates. In any case, Moonves says, the tiny company has attracted “way more attention than it deserves” adding that he has “confidence that the Court will find Aereo to be illegal.”
On other matters, Moonves says that the late night transition from David Letterman to Stephen Colbert will be “a bittersweet moment for CBS.” He calls Letterman “the greatest ever in late night comedy” but adds that Colbert “can be the best of his generation as well.” The late night show currently runs in 200 global markets, and by the time Colbert takes over it could be in 220.
The CBS chief says he’s optimistic about the upfront … Read More »
It was legal matters and late-night that Les Moonves wanted to talk about today at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference. “I feel good about our chances in the Supreme Court,” said the CBS chief about last week’s hearing on the legality of the Aereo streaming service. Not that Moonves wasn’t prepared for a loss in the nine Justices’ upcoming ruling. “I’ll stand by my statement that we have another alternative if we lose,” Moonves added. Last year at the same conference, Moonves said he could move CBS to cable in “a few days” if the situation with the streaming service could not be resolved in the courts – and that was before the broadcasters petitioned SCOTUS late last year. “Aereo takes our content,” the network exec told the conference crowd, “and doesn’t pay for it – that’s theft.” Moonves added today, “I think our case is very strong.” A decision from the Supreme Court is expected in late June. On a more personal note, Moonves said that though he and Aereo backer Barry Diller are close friends he decided to never speak about the streaming service with the IAC boss after one conversation for the betterment of their relationship. That practical advice drew a big laugh from the suit-and-tie crowd in the ballroom this morning.
“I think the film business is going to be a tremendous growth business,” said Jeff Shell today. Speaking at the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, the Universal Filmed Entertainment chairman rebuffed Jeffrey Katzenberg’s proclamation earlier this week at the same conference that “movies are not a growth business.” “Domestic ticket sales are flat but if you look internationally most of the markets are growing like crazy,” Shell said, noting that globally is where the vast majority of box office comes from now. The studio boss’ comments came just hours after Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes slapped down the DreamWorks Animation CEO’s remarks. DWA shares are down around 11% today after it took a $57M writedown for Mr Peabody & Sherman.
Les Moonves better clear some time on his schedule for a call from Jerry Brown - though the California Governor might not like what the CBS boss has to tell him. On the other hand, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo might be very happy because sources tell me that despite the efforts by politicians on both Coasts, the Late Show is almost certainly going to stay in NYC once Stephen Colbert takes over as host next year. Despite Cuomo adding his two cents today (see the Gov’s statement below) other elected officials’ efforts and the fact that CBS hasn’t announced a location for the new incarnation of the Late Show, it is highly unlikely that the franchise is leaving NYC’s Ed Sullivan Theatre. “Moving the Late Show just isn’t practical,” one insider said. “Plus there’ll be more than enough of a change with the handoff from Letterman to Colbert without piling more on unnecessarily.” Add to that the fact is that Colbert’s family is based on the East Coast and the historic Sullivan Theatre is a legacy that is very important to Moonves.
EXCLUSIVE: Will Les Moonves have to install a party line? One day after getting a call from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio urging the CBS boss to keep Late Show in the City That Never Sleeps after David Letterman steps down next year, I’ve learned that Moonves got a call today from LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Film Czar Ken Ziffren imploring him to bring the late-night franchise to the West Coast. The three spoke this afternoon, I’m told.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Garcetti has tried to persuade Moonves to put the City of Angels in his late-night future. On the day Letterman announced that he would be retiring in 2015, the SAG-AFTRA card-carrying mayor wrote to the CBS chief on the matter of Letterman’s successor and where that show would be located. “I am excited for the opportunity to encourage you to bring CBS’ next late-night show to our city — the entertainment capital of the world,” Garcetti wrote to Moonves on April 3.
UPDATE, 11:25 AM:Forget the letter-writing campaign of Los Angeles’ mayor. The mayor of New York picked up the phone and directly asked CBS boss Les Moonves to keep the Late Show in the Big Apple after David Letterman retires next year. “I had a very good conversation yesterday with the man who will actually make that decision, Les Moonves, and I emphasized that New York has been an extraordinary home for the Late Show and that we think it’ll be a great home for the Late Show going forward,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio today during a press conference. “Obviously, David Letterman made rich use of his surrounding environment of New York City, and I hope that his successor will do the same.”
The same day Letterman announced he would be leaving Late Show sometime in 2015, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti wrote to the CBS boss urging him to move Letterman’s successor out to the West Coast. Burbank lost The Tonight Show back to NYC after 40 years when Jimmy Fallon took over hosting earlier this year, and L.A. is currently home to late-night’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Conan O’Brien’s talk show on TBS, Arsenio Hall, and Letterman’s lead-out Craig Ferguson. On Friday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito also wrote to Moonves about making sure Late Show post-Letterman stayed in New York. With de Blasio now weighing in, is it only a matter of time until this becomes a Governor-to-Governor thing? NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already made his stand doing the Top 10 list on April 4. Read More »
“With the addition of the NFL on Thursday night our schedule is pretty darn tight,” the CBS chief told the Deutsche Bank Annual Media, Internet & Telecom Conference this morning.Les Moonves says he’s considering 18 pilots this year, including spinoffs of NCIS and CSI, compared with about 22 last year. And “you only need four winners” so “you’d better be damn good or you’re not going to get on.” He acknowledged that his network’s Monday night shows have been “slightly disappointing. … NBC did well with The Voice.” As a result, people should “not be surprised to see The Big Bang Theory on Monday nights” in the first six weeks of the season — overlapping the eight-week period when CBS will have NFL games on Thursday nights — as well as “a returning successful show or a new show” at 10 PM.
The CBS chief describes Dish Network and Disney’s new programming agreement as “a win-win for both companies.” But it’s still “not quite enough for us,” Les Moonves told the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference today. He likes the fact that Dish chairman Charlie Ergen curtailed the ability of his Hopper DVR to automatically zap ads on ABC shows; the new deal will delay that until three days after a show airs. (CBS and other broadcasters sued Dish saying that the Hopper infringed on their copyrights and violated programming contracts. Dish says the Hopper simply automates the ad skipping that DVR viewers already do with their remote controls.) Moonves also doesn’t mind the terms in the deal with Disney that would enable Dish to carry its channels on an Internet pay TV service, also known as over-the-top. “Everybody’s talking about over the top,” he says. “We’re talking about it with many of the [pay TV distributors] we’re in business with….The current ecosystem works very well, but a new way to get paid for your linear content is a good thing if it’s done appropriately.” He adds that consumers will probably see a online pay TV service “in concert with our partners.” That could include Dish: Moonves says that “our deal with Charlie is up at the end of this year. It’ll be an interesting conversation, as they always are with Charlie.”
This should impress Wall Street, although perhaps not the CBS lawyers who likely will tell U.S. Supreme Court justices why it’s so important for them to block the streaming service. CEO Les Moonves told analysts this evening that by 2020 CBS should collect at least $2B a year from cable and satellite companies that want to distribute its programming — up from his previous projection of $1B by 2017. The cash will come from its O&Os as well as reverse compensation payments from affiliates that also charge pay TV distributors that carry their signals. “We’ve exceeded our target every time we’ve given you one,” Moonves says. It’s part of his campaign to persuade investors that the cash will continue to flow even if ad sales flatten or decline. One analyst asked, though, whether CBS can still hit its $2B target if the high court rejects broadcasters’ arguments that Aereo infringes on their copyrights by streaming their over-the-air programming without paying them a dime. If Aereo wins, many believe, then cable and satellite companies might try to replicate the service so they, too, can avoid the rising outlays. “We will hit that number regardless of what happens with Aereo,” Moonves says. Indeed, he noted, even though he expects broadcasters to win, if they don’t then “we’re not going to be financially handicapped at all.” The companies have “a host of alternatives,” including creating their own Aereo-like streaming … Read More »
The CBS chief is taking Dish Network Chairman Charlie Ergen at his word after he said this week that there’s a way for broadcasters to benefit from his Hopper DVR, which automatically zaps ads on recorded shows. “We’re very flexible. We’re willing to negotiate,” Les Moonves told investors today at the Guggenheim Securities TMT Symposium. Calling Ergen “a very smart man” he says “if there’s a way to do this that benefits everybody, we’re very open to it.” But the bottom line has to be that “we need to get paid for our content…. We spend $4M an episode for NCIS. I have to pay for it.” Broadcasters have sued Dish alleging that the Hopper infringes on their copyrights; Dish counters that it simply automates the ad skipping that DVR viewers already do. The fate of the device is an issue in Dish’s current program carriage negotiations with Disney. Ergen says the Hopper “has built-in technology that can target commercials to customers in a better [way]” and “give the broadcaster more revenue” — although he added that “it’s not a proven concept yet.” Read More »
Two days after the company announced that Louis Briskman was stepping down as SVP and General Counsel, CBS today named his successor. Former NBCUniversal General Counsel Lawrence Tu will take over as Senior EVP and Chief Legal Officer of CBS Corporation in January of next year. “He brings to this position a unique combination of experiences at the highest court of the land, as well as in finance, M&A, entertainment, government regulation, litigation and technology,” said CBS chief Les Moonves of Tu in a statement Wednesday. Tu will be based out of LA and report directly to Moonves, CBS said today. Harvard grad and Rhodes scholar Tu served as NBC’s General Counsel from 2001 to 2004 before moving to the same position at Dell, where he was until today’s announcement. Before his stint at NBC, Tu was co-general counsel of Goldman Sachs Asia Pacific out of Hong Kong after a decade and a half at powerhouse firm O’Melveny & Myers, where he became the managing partner of their Hong Kong office. A former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the lawyer also served at the State Department in his career.
Tu’s predecessor at CBS, Briskman was a 30-year veteran of the company. After a one-year stint at Aetna Inc., Briskman rejoined the company in 2005 and became EVP and General Counsel … Read More »
The CBS chief isn’t prepared to stop once he persuades advertisers to pay for viewers who watch commercials as much as seven days after a show airs — a change he expects to see next year from the current live-plus-three-days. “We’re pushing eventually for live plus 30,” Les Moonves told investors this morning at the RBC Capital Markets Technology, Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference. Viewers increasingly watch shows on DVRs, VOD, and online. As a result, for a series such as CBS’ Hostages “when you count 30 days more, the number [of viewers] almost doubles,” he says. Moonves adds that buyers should be willing to pay. “If you show the advertisers that a person is really watching them, that’s a good thing….Advertisers are paying for the eyeballs that are watching their spots.” But Disney CEO Bob Iger, for one, says it may take longer than Moonves thinks to persuade buyers to even raise the current threshold to seven days. “I’m not sure it’s going to happen very quickly,” Iger said last week. “I don’t think the advertising community is going to move that fast.” Read More »
The CBS chief just rubbed a little salt into the cable operators’ wounds from their 32-day contract dispute this summer.The loss of CBS stations and channels on Time Warner Cable systems “did not negatively affect our third-quarter results,” he told analysts in a conference call to discuss his company’s earnings. (Last week, COO Rob Marcus said that TWC’s video subscriber losses “were much worse than we planned” in Q3.) Les Moonves also put other pay TV distributors on notice that CBS’ revenues from retransmission consent fees are up 50% so far this year and “you’ll see even bigger increases in the years to come” — even without giving up streaming rights to its programs. Couldn’t that attract attention from the FCC? Moonves says he isn’t worried. If the FCC decided to referee fights between programmers and distributors “that would be the only things they’d do. … Every indication is that they will stay out.” CBS also is sanguine about the likelihood that cable operators will consolidate, in part to give them more clout in retransmission fee negotiations. “We don’t lose any sleep,” COO Joseph Ianniello says. “As long as consumers have a choice [with satellite or telco video providers] they’ll always find CBS.” Moonves was equally blasé about the expansion of Aereo, which streams TV station programming without paying … Read More »
“You will see at our third quarter earnings that there was no harm done to CBS Corporation,” the company chief told investors at Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conferenceabout the 32-day blackout on Time Warner Cable systems. “It didn’t hurt us one iota financially.” Moonves says that “August is our slowest time in primetime” and among national advertisers “everybody hung in there.” He used the forum to take a few shots at TWC, which acknowledged today that it lost customers in the dispute. Although “there are no good guys or bad guys from a consumer’s point of view,” Moonves says CBS had a PR advantage over TWC: “These are the guys who show up six hours late for an installation.” He adds that he’s “fairly certain” that federal officials won’t become more involved in retransmission battles. If the FCC did then “they won’t be able to do anything else.” He also continued to pooh-pooh the possibility of a threat from Aereo, which streams local broadcast programming. The service “just got a huge defeat” in a DC court decision against a similar streamer, Alki David’s FilmOn. Networks say that the services breach … Read More »