CBS’ Moonves And Redstone: Content Is King And TV Is The Jewel; Online Ads Rising In Q1

After some effusive praise for CBS’ cost containment and ability to withstand the economic downturn, Sumner Redstone, executive chairman, CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), handed the call over to Les Moonves, CEO and president. Before hanging up, Redstone repeated a line he gave when introducing the Viacom (NYSE: VIA) earnings call last week, saying that “Content is always king.” In his opening remarks, Moonves couldn’t resist celebrating the record-breaking Super Bowl viewership of 106.5 million. “In a socially fragmented universe, big events and TV viewership provides the biggest bang for the buck.”

— Moonves also boasted of the importance retransmission fees. The company signed 56 deals the past few months and Moonves is looking for more. Turning to online, which rests on a more limited distribution than that of its competitors, Moonves said, “We’re selectively putting programming online and it continues to work well for us. It’s never at the expense of our programming. Display is rising nicely into the high teens, with games and sports performing nicely. Also gearing up for March Madness on Demand, which is expected to be even bigger.”

— CFO Joe Ianniello said that while CBS Interactive was down 5 percent, the tide started to change at the end of Q4.

— On the cable front, Moonves noted that the cable nets did pretty well, with Showtime grew subs about 2 percent, while College Sports was up 9 percent. Moonves also touched on today’s news about Tiger Woods’ public apology. “As a heavy golf programmer, CBS welcomes [Tiger’s] return.”

— CBS’ strategy is to keep retrans agreements short-term, unless they get the rates they want. Moonves dismissed an analysts’ contention that Fox may have gotten a better deal from Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC).

— Online distribution: Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) wants to get prices down to $0.99. “Online advertising is trial and process. We’re experimenting with different loads. These are all short term deals. Certain shows will be sold on Apple for $0.99. But it all looks good for the future.” Asked if TV Everywhere and authentication takes off, would he remove streaming ad loads. “Once authentication takes hold, it changes everything.”