Moonves In Mood To Celebrate

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Touting his network's success, CBS Chairman Les Moonves told 520 affiliates gathered at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas Wednesday--100 more than last year's affiliate meeting--that "we have a lot of celebrating to do."

When he wasn't crowing about his network's fortunes, he was rebutting critics of his decision to axe the Wednesday edition of 60 Minutes, saying that "CBS News will always be the jewel in my crown."

He also said the network would lay out alternatives during a meeting Thursday concerning multiplexing of channels--an issue close to the heart of affiliates--vowing to work more with stations on digital issues.

Doreen Wade, chair of the CBS Television Network Affiliates Association and president of Freedom Broadcasting, said the "development of new business [between affiliates and the network] has to be a priority."

She had mostly positive things to say about CBS, but acknowledged the two sides have "agreed to disagree" on certain issues important to affiliates.

At an earlier closed-door meeting, affiliates heard that efforts to expand joint money-making endeavors with the network may have to wait until Viacom splits off its broadcast/billboard and movie/cable divisions into
separate companies, which could come by the end of the month.

Addressing the split, Moonves said: "I can tell you that if this happens, it will be very positive for us.... The key here is we [would] have a much better control of the creative process."

Retransmission consent was also a big topic of discussion among affiliates, which said they intend to piggyback their local carriage agreements on CBS' strategy of obtaining all-cash deals from cable systems for the right to carry their stations.

In his comments, Moonves proudly proclaimed that CBS had regained its "Tiffany Network" mantle, and reiterated the network's season victory in adults 18-49 when sports programming is excluded. (Fox wins when its Super Bowl and baseball playoff numbers are included.)

Moonves also gave a shout-out to ABC and Fox, tipping his hat to ABC for its new hit dramas, and to Fox for American Idol.  But, Moonves said, "advertisers buy entire schedules, not just a few hits."

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