Les Moonves: ‘[CBS News] doesn’t help the bottom line, but it is very important for the image of CBS’

By Alex Weprin 

This morning CBS CEO Les Moonves participated in a  forum sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, a portion of that conversation focused on CBS News. Moonves talked about how happy he was with the current state of the news division, and how he viewed it as part of the company. In something of a throwback  Moonves said that while CBS News makes money, it is not primarily viewed as a profit engine, rather, it is part of the public interest.

“When you are a network, a public company like CBS, there is a public trust factor, and I take that really seriously. Our news division does an extraordinary job of providing a public service,” Moonves said. “You talk about how the early ratings were off this year, well, part of the reason is that we had four nights of debates, which pre-empted — God forbid — “Two and a Half Men,” and we took a hit.

We covered the election, and the election night returns were great, it doesn’t help the bottom line, but it is very important for the image of CBS, and our place in society,” Moonves added.

He noted that he was pleased with the diction the news division has been taking.

“I think as long as you have a network you have to have a news division. People say, well, your news is in last place so what do you need it for? You could make more money — which is true — with other things [in those time periods],” Moonves said. “I think right now with the terrific new shift of Jeff Fager and David Rhodes, our news has gotten very serious, we have gotten back to basics, right now our early show is the only one that is growing, our evening news is the only one that is growing. We are doing legitimate, hard news and people really want that.”

He also talked about “60 Minutes,” which has been a staple of the network’s primetime lineup for 45 years.

“It is still a top 25 show, it still makes a nice amount of profit. The worst line I hear over and over again is that 18-49 year old are the only demographic that matters to advertisers. That is absolutely not true. The average age [of ’60 Minutes’] is 61 or 62 years old, and it makes us a ton of money,” Moonves said. “I am sure it will be here long after I am dead and gone.”