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CBS chief Leslie Moonves takes shot at USA Network, tells government to stay out of distribution fights

April 12, 2011 | 11:49 am

In an interview at the National Assn. of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas, CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves took issue with the value of USA Network, warned the government to stay out of his business, and said he is worried about technology cannibalizing his core business.

Talking about the need for broadcasters to get paid by cable operators for their programming, Moonves said, "the USA Network should not be paid more per-subscriber than the CBS network." Moonves said some of USA's highest-rated shows are reruns from his network, including "NCIS." According to SNL Kagan, an industry consulting firm, USA gets about 60 cents per-month, per-subscriber from pay-TV distributors.

Moonves did not say what CBS is getting from cable operators for its programming, but in the past he has indicated he expects CBS to start taking in north of $250 million annually in so-called retransmission consent fees in the years ahead. Though an impressive amount, it pales in comparison with what some of the biggest cable networks generate.

Interviewed by NAB President Gordon Smith, Moonves said the government should not get involved in disputes between cable operators and broadcasters over distribution deals.

"This is something the FCC should stay out of; this is not their battle," Moonves said. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski has said he would prefer to keep the regulatory agency on the sidelines during these fights, but nonetheless the commission is exploring whether there is a role for it in these negotiations, which sometimes lead to channels being pulled and consumers left in the dark.

Asked what concerns him most about the industry, Moonves said technology. Mentioning new platforms such as Hulu and Netflix, Moonves said he wants to ensure that CBS does not undervalue the company's content for the panache of being on a new platform.

Moonves was on home turf, speaking before broadcasters, and didn't face questions about anchorwoman Katie Couric's future with the network or the fate of the sitcom "Two and a Half Men," whose star Charlie Sheen was fired last month by Warner Bros., which makes the show.

-- Joe Flint

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