CBS’ Moonves Tells Google TV to Pay Up

If Google wants access to the broadcast networks’ top prime-time shows for its fledgling Google TV product, they are going to have to cough up some cash.

At least, they will have to for CBS’ shows.

According to CBS CEO Les Moonves, Google TV is not going to get his networks’ content “for zero dollars”—and his plan is to approach the product cautiously.

“Google TV is very interesting,” said Moonves on Tuesday (Dec. 7) during a keynote interview at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. “I’m not sure what it is. I’m not sure what it will do to our business. I know Mr. Schmidt thinks we have our heads in the sand, but I beg to differ.”

Mr. Schmidt in this case is Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who recently questioned whether the broadcast networks understood Google TV—suggesting that they were actually blocking innovation in the business.

To date, CBS, along with NBC, Fox and ABC are all blocking their content from being viewed via Google TV on the networks’ own sites or platforms like Hulu. Several of the networks are said to be fearful of damaging their relationships with cable providers and affiliates or giving Google TV too much control.

“Control” was a word used several times by Moonves on Tuesday because it is something that is important to CBS’ more cautious approach to distributing its shows to various digital channels.  

In the case of Google TV, CBS would technically be monetizing its content—since it sells advertising alongside video streamed on its Web site. Regardless, Moonves was emphatic that any company that distributes its shows would have to ante up. “We are a primary provider of premium content,” he said. “We are going to get paid for it.”

That message would seem to apply to companies like Netflix, Apple or Hulu. In the case of Hulu, CBS has famously stayed away from the popular video site—a joint venture between NBC Universal, Disney and News Corp.

Moonves implied that he believes Hulu will eventually become a subscription-only service, via which its network partners would get paid up front for their shows. “Who knows what the future of Hulu is?” he asked.

Earlier in the day at the UBS event, a chipper Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz sat for a keynote interview, during which she defended her record over the past few years, ones that have been rocky for the company.

Bartz cited the search deal that Yahoo signed with Microsoft, as well as several sales of non-core businesses (such as HotJobs) which have streamlined operations, along with a two-year quest to upgrade Yahoo’s base technology, which is nearly complete.

However, according to Bartz, one of her biggest impacts has been on Yahoo’s culture—one that had become too deferential to users. “Our main objectives are revenue and profit,” she said. “A lot of folks at Yahoo measured themselves by whether consumers felt good about themselves.” But they weren’t necessarily measuring their impact on the bottom line, per Bartz.

Bartz relayed a discussion she had early in her tenure about Yahoo Mail, when she asked an employee, “Why are all the bad ads in mail?” She didn’t like the answer she got: “People said, ‘We don’t want to irritate people.’ So let’s irritate them with bad ads? You don’t want to get in somebody’s face? Well, that’s what advertising is.”