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CBS CEO Leslie Moonves at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Media Conference

September 10, 2009 | 12:03 pm

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves is being interviewed at the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch media conference by analyst Jessica Reif of Merrill Lynch. Here's the skinny.

He says, "I don't foresee us doing anything major in terms of an acquisition," when asked whether the company might look at Internet properties or other media deals. 

MOONVES On advertising, Moonves says CBS sold about 65% of its commercial inventory for the fall TV season, which is 10% to 15% less than usual, but says the scatter market is very strong. He thinks fourth-quarter scatter this year will be higher than last year.

On Jay Leno's move, he says what NBC is doing is just a "different way of playing the game." He's being gentle. Earlier this year, his boss Sumner Redstone said CBS would crush Leno.

It is too early to tell how many political ad dollars there will be in 2010, Moonves says. He does note that CBS does better in nonpresidential election years. "It will be very interesting to see the political climate and how it affects us," he said.

On the local station business, Moonves says Tribune (The Times' parent company) is "a big question mark." Thanks, Leslie.

Reif is asking about Showtime and how meaningful it will be to CBS's bottom line. Moonves ducks. He says Showtime is up 1.5 million subscribers but won't talk dollars. "Showtime is doing great," he says, adding "costs will be coming down" since it is not buying big movie packages anymore from Paramount and other studios.

"We always buck the trends," Moonves says about Showtime being up in subscribers and CBS doing better in ratings.

Reif is trying to grill him about their contracts with cable and satellite operators, but Moonves says it is about the programming. "I really believe from the bottom of my soul you put on good shows and they will come."

Reif pushes on contracts. She asks: "Is there something going on besides the programming that would drive your subs?" Moonves says no.

CBS's first theatrical comes out in January with Jennifer Lopez, and in March it has Harrison Ford movie. Moonves says they have their own domestic distribution.

"These are real movies, Jessica," Moonves says. "Harrison Ford is a big star where I come from," he says The movies cost under $40 million. "You won't see this division doing `Transformers.' "

Now on to CW. Reif calls "Gossip Girl" a huge hit. Don't know how we're defining huge, but anyway. 

Moonves says CBS will not sell all its radio stations. "There is still value in radio," he says. However, he wants to unload a lot more stations and really focus in the Top 10 markets. He also says there are no plans to sell outdoor holdings.

Reif asks what investment community is missing on CNET deal. Moonves says he is very pleased with CNET (CBS paid about $1.8 billion for it). "There is no way we would have been a player without making an investment like that," he says.

Time for the balance sheet. Reif asks about buybacks and dividends. "We want to see where we're at," he says. He won't say whether CBS will buyback shares or increase dividend (which was cut earlier this year). 

Moonves says CBS took in over $30 million in revenue from NCAA March Madness online. That deal is coming up in a few years. CBS has the Super Bowl this year too. Moonves says the pricing is very good, but he won't cough up details.

"Life is beautiful," Moonves says in conclusion.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Leslie Moonves: Credit: John Paul Filo / CBS