CBS Corp. Executive Insights: Ad Market, Production Outside CBS

On Tuesday, CBS Corporation Class B (NYSE:CBS) reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call. Here’s what the C-suite revealed.

Ad Market

Benjamin Swinburne – Morgan Stanley: Les, can I ask you first about the ad market? I think in the fourth quarter you guys were sort of flattish at the network on ad sales, and if you strip out the NCAA timing – I think you said 4% growth in March, and you had taken some – a little bit of criticism around – about the upfront last year and sort of waiting for some of the make goods to kick in, I’m wondering if you could just talk about what happened this quarter. Why we saw the acceleration? Did you sort of better monetize your ratings because there are some issues at your competitors, is this a market improvement; anything around those, scatter premiums, any of those details would be very helpful?

A Closer Look: CBS Earnings Cheat Sheet>>

Leslie Moonves – President and CEO: I think it’s a little bit of everything. Obviously, our ratings have been fairly significant and fairly dominant. In addition, the marketplace clearly has gotten a lot stronger in the first quarter than was in the fourth quarter. And as we had towards the upfront and scatter becomes a little bit less important, although scatter is still double-digit, I think everybody is preparing right now for the upfront and we are in a terrific position because the advertisers have come back in a very strong way. We are getting a lot of early indications. As I said, our schedule is fairly secure. And that we’ve announced 18 pickups and there’s another one that’s almost done, which would be a 19. So, the advertisement, it’s a lot better to plan for schedule on TV as anybody else and we are feeling a lot of strength in the end market.

Benjamin Swinburne – Morgan Stanley: And just a follow-up on the international front, maybe Joe, you mentioned international syndication a couple of times. This was a big topic at your Investor Day, I think was a year ago plus. Can you just give us a sense what kind of price increases you typically see and you expect to see this year? There’s obviously a lot of investor concern about Europe and if you could help us think about how important Europe is versus other regions in that international syndication business just to help us to think about the drivers in the summer as you move into the fall that would be helpful?

Joseph Ianniello – EVP and CFO: Sure. Look, I think it’s the demand is what’s really driving. It’s in obviously more countries as well as the more established country, it’s more competitive. So clearly that’s allowing us to have pricing leverage in those negotiations, but I think the strong demand is really what’s driving that event.

Production Outside CBS

Jessica Reif-Cohen – Bank of America, Merrill Lynch: Two questions, if I can. Given the success you’ve had or enjoying right now in content, do you have thoughts about or plans for producing for other outside of CBS, basically (indiscernible) do you have capacity to scale up and would you?

Leslie Moonves – President and CEO: Yeah, we right now are producing one show for USA and we have another pilot right now in the works for Turner and CBS (NYSE:CBS) also has a pilot for Showtime which is internal. So with the pipeline into CBS (NYSE:CBS) and into CW, we are now expanding and we are looking to do that and we’re in pretty good shape and we do have the capacity to do that.

Jessica Reif-Cohen – Bank of America, Merrill Lynch: And then just that question on Showtime, the growth in subs has been really surprising given everybody else’s performance. Where do you think penetration can wind up or how much more growth do you think is ahead?

Leslie Moonves – President and CEO: HBO is 27 or 28 and they were 27 about five years ago when we were 13. So we’ve added 8 million and there’s no reason we can’t add some more going forward. I mean clearly people are responding to our original programming in a big, big way and it’s not surprising to us that our subscribers are increasing.