CBS's Moonves Rules Out CNN/CBS News Merger

CBS Corp. chief also says he wants to keep The Oprah Winfrey Show at CBS Domestic Television past 2011

CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves ruled out a merger of the company's news operations with Time Warner's CNN.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank media and telecommunications conference, Moonves was asked about a possible merger of CBS News and responded, "We've had five different discussions with CNN about doing something together, and it has appeared to be unmanageable."

He added that Time Warner has also had talks with ABC. "We do look for opportunities to do a deal with CNN, but it's not in the cards."

A day earlier, Time Warner chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes suggested CNN would be open to helping out a broadcast network news department by combining operations.

Moonves was also asked about whether the industry would see consolidation in the broadcast landscape. "The media landscape is made up of six to seven companies," he said. "I don't see any big deals being done for properties."

He also likened NBC to a "cable-type property," saying that it is programming Monday to Friday from 8pm to 10pm.

It also seems that CBS won't be giving up its relationship with its syndicated star Oprah Winfrey without a fight. Oprah Winfrey's contract to air her daily show runs until 2011. The star is also planning to launch her cable network, OWN, in partnership with Discovery Communications.

Moonves said: "The Discovery people got a little ahead of themselves. Oprah hasn't said she isn't coming back....She is clearly one of the most influential people in America.... She may not be leaving so quickly. We're going to do everything we can to make sure she stays. Discovery wants her full time. They may not get her full time."

Moonves gave a little further insight into how the May upfront might play out. He suggested CBS might sell less inventory in the upfront.

"There will be a bit less volume," he said about the amount of advertising that might be bought in the upfront. We might sell a little bit less in the upfront and play to our strengths. Movies need to buy in the scatter market, other companies will do that.... Autos are not planning as big an upfront budget, is my guess. They'll eventually have to come out of this." The scatter market is the quarter-by-quarter approach to buying TV airtime, while the upfront has companies committing their dollars in advance of the fall season. Boldly, Moonves added, "We expect price increases on a year ago."

Known as a bullish optimist, Moonves expressed some uncharacteristic feelings of frustration winding up his 7:30 a.m. Q&A session with a Deutsche Bank analyst, saying, "This marketplace beats the heck out of anyone. Some days you just want to knock your head against the wall. This is caused by the economy and it will get better. I'd be more worried if our ratings were down. When the market turns around we're going to be fine."