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CBS Chief Leslie Moonves predicts strong upfront advertising season; mum on Charlie Sheen

March 7, 2011 |  8:14 am

CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves predicted that CBS would garner rate increases of at least  10% over last year's prices when the broadcast networks begin selling commercial time for the 2011 television season.

For the last few years, advertisers have refused to pay double-digit rate increases for TV time and the networks have bowed to their wishes. But speaking Monday morning at the Deutsche Bank Media and Telecom investor conference in Palm Beach, Fla., Moonves predicted the networks would have the leverage this year, and that CBS would be in a position to make substantial gains.

Moonves2011 That's because the advertising market has improved dramatically during the last year, and CBS once again has the most stable schedule of any of the four major broadcast networks.  

During the current TV season, which began in late September, advertisers who waited to buy their time have been paying rates at least 35% higher than those established last summer, when CBS sold the bulk of its inventory for the current season. Networks typically sell at least 75% of their advertising inventory during the so-called upfront sales season.  The leftover time is then sold piecemeal during the season in the "scatter" market, and that's where there has been significant price inflation.  

 "We're going into a very strong marketplace," Moonves said. "Advertising is back, and the climate is much stronger.  I would be very surprised if we took much inventory [to market] below double digits."

CBS' new shows have produced suitable ratings, and so when it puts together its new fall schedule, CBS' dilemma will be which shows to bring back.  

"We don't have very many holes in our schedule. There is not a lot that is going to be cancelled," Moonves said. "I wish we had another network to program."

Well, he does share the CW network with Warner Bros. and that small network could use a boost.

Moonves made it clear he wasn't interested in discussing whether CBS would be missing its No. 1 comedy, "Two and a Half Men," next season. Perhaps he was feeling burned by his comments at the Morgan Stanley investor conference last week, when he said he would like to see the return of the show's rogue star, Charlie Sheen. On Monday, Moonves told the conference audience: "We are not going to talk about "Two and A Half Men " -- yet."  CharlieSheenColo

Deutsche Bank media analyst Doug Mitchelson tried, however, when Moonves boasted that some of the network's cost-containment strategies involved killing off high-priced actors in prime-time shows.

"I wonder if you have successfully changed out a lead actor in a show before," Mitchelson asked.

Moonves cleared his throat -- twice. 

"OK, I'm sorry. I promised no Charlie Sheen questions," Mitchelson said.

Later, Moonves said there may be a few tweaks to the schedule. He described CBS' lineup as having something for everyone, with a slate of traditional dramas and "sort of traditional family comedies, and I'm not going any further than that," Moonves said.

"Well, there are some good messages in there for kids, one way or another, with those shows," Mitchelson said.

Said Moonves: "Yeah."

-- Meg James 

Photos, from top: CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves. Credit: Evan Agostini / Associated Press. Charlie Sheen. Credit: Ed Andrieski / Associated Press