In hashing out some of CBS’ economic data, Moonves demonstrated that his network essentially has a license to print money. For example, when CBS pulled the plug on CSI: Miami after 10 seasons, the show’s per-episode production costs had soared to $3.7 million. By comparison, newcomer Elementary has a much leaner budget, with production costs of $1.8 million per episode.
And while the pricey CSI: Miami is no longer on CBS’ schedule, it still makes money for the network. “When we took it off the air it automatically went to Netflix at a preset price,” Moonves said. The series will also generate an estimated $80 million in first-run syndication.
Moonves peppered his conversation with a number of zingers, riffing on everything from CBS’ supposed overreliance on procedurals to the recent antics of Two and a Half Men co-star Angus T. Jones.
“People think we’ve relied way too much on procedurals, but if you can give me a show like CSI which makes $2.5 billion over the length of the series, or NCIS which is breaking $1 billion in profit, we’ll keep killing people every single week,” Moonves cracked. “That’s what we do.”
During an aside on how actors are better compensated as a series progresses, Moonves took a jab at Jones, who recently recanted a video testimonial in which he urged viewers to turn their backs on his show. “We do have to pay actors more in hit shows and that’s a very good thing,” Moonves said. “There’s that kid on Two and a Half Men who is getting $300,000 an episode to talk bad about me.”
Earlier in the day, at a breakfast hosted by The Wall Street Journal, Moonves said he didn’t know if Jones had a future on Two and a Half Men, saying only, “After going what we went through with Charlie Sheen, this has been a piece of cake.”
Clearly in an expansive mood—there appears to be a direct correlation between the volume of one-liners dropped during a Moonves appearance and CBS’ stock performance—the network boss also joked about retransmission-consent revenue, which is expected to top the $1 billion mark by 2017. Noting that ESPN takes in north of $5 per subscriber per month in carriage fees, Moonves said he’d be shooting for a $7 retrans fee in 2013.
Well, not really. “I’m only kidding,” he said. “That sounds nice, though. That’s a nice number.”
Looking ahead to the first quarter of next year, Moonves said that CBS has just a few Super Bowl spots left to sell, reiterating that rates are over $4 million for each 30-second allotment.
“We could have sold out, but it’s good to hold a few so that when you get some crazed movie company come in on January 15th saying, ‘I have to have it,’ well, God what would that number be? It’s fun to think about.”