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Let the Upfront Games Begin

CBS' Les Moonves eyes double-digit upfront hikes
  • February 29, 2012, 2:51 PM EST

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images For PGA

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Les Moonves on Wednesday told investors that CBS is gearing up for another lucrative upfront market, predicting that the top-rated broadcast network will land double-digit pricing increases versus its already high 2011-12 rates.

Speaking at the Deutsche Bank 20th Annual Media and Telecom Conference, a Moonves gently chided analyst Doug Mitchelson, who suggested that CBS’ elevated GRPs had led to a decline in first-quarter scatter pricing.

“You spoke to the [media buyers] first, which is always the wrong thing to do, because they always lowball you,” Moonves said. “We’re going to get double-digit increases in the upfront. There you have it—let the games begin.”

In the absence of  any confirmed client budgets, Moonves is the first television executive to call his shot in advance of the 2012-13 bazaar. As Moonves reminded Mitchelson, the CBS sales team made good on the prediction he made a year ago.

“I said [we’d get increases in the] low- to mid-teens, and we ended up 13 to 14 percent,” Moonves recalled. “You doubted me then; don’t doubt me again.”

Always a reliable barometer of CBS’ marketplace prospects, Moonves clearly has much to be bullish about as the earth begins to heave its way toward spring. Through the first 23 weeks of the TV season, CBS is tops among total viewers, with an average prime time draw of 12.2 million, and is hot on the heels of Fox in the all-important 18-49 demo.

Per Nielsen’s blended live-plus-seven-day/live-plus-same-day ratings data, CBS is averaging a 3.1 in the 18-49 demo, up 3 percent versus the year-ago period. Fox is drawing a 3.3 rating, which marks a 6 percent decline from this time in 2011.

Moonves noted that the scatter market has picked up after demand slowed in the fourth quarter of 2011, adding that CBS enjoys the significant advantage of not being burdened with makegoods.

Other media execs, including News Corp. COO Chase Carey and Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, declined to discuss their own upfront expectations, saying that it was impossible to make any long-term projections at this point in time.

CBS is expected to unveil its fall lineup on May 16 at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

As was the case a year ago, the CBS upfront presentation will be light on new shows. Because two of CBS’ six freshman series are bona fide hits (2 Broke Girls, Person of Interest) and another is trending above a 2.0 in the demo (Unforgettable), there simply isn’t much room on the docket for new material.

“We’ve proposed that the U.S. government add an eighth day to the calendar so we can program another night, but that’s not going to work,” Moonves joked. “But out of a 22-hour schedule, we maybe have an hour and a half of weakness. That’s a pretty good position to be in.”

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