Moonves: NFL coming to CBS All Access in ‘not-too-distant future’

CBS CEO Les Moonves (Credit: Sarah Ackerman/Flickr, David Shankbone/Flickr)(Sarah Ackerman/Flickr, David Shankbone, Flickr)

CBS Corp. chief Les Moonves continues to strike an optimistic tone about his company’s SVOD service acquiring live-streaming rights to NFL games. 

"I anticipate before too long that we'll be able to make a deal with the NFL," Moonves said Thursday, speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2016 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills, Calif. "We talk to them a lot. They know our desire to get [the games] on our service, and we think a deal will happen in the not-too-distant future.”

Moonves conceded that NFL licensing doesn’t make CBS any money, at least not directly. He said the company’s broadcast network will break even with five Thursday-night games on its schedule this season. Last year, with eight Thursday-night games, the network lost more money.

“I liked that better, even though we lost more money,” he added. 

However, drawing an average of 17.5 million viewers, there is no better programming tool available to promote CBS’ fall schedule, Moonves pointed out. It’s the reason why the NFL can dictate terms, spreading Thursday-night games across NBC, the NFL Network and various digital platforms, with nary a complaint by CBS.

"You never like seeing a competitor getting a part of what you do, but such is the NFL,” Moonves lamented. “They’re the 800-pound gorilla, and when the NFL says 'jump,' you say, 'yes sir.'"

Moonves expressed satisfaction with CBS’ overall live-sports portfolio, which also includes Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Big Ten college football, NCAA Men’s Basketball, and PGA  golf.

"We're sort of happy with the hand that we're playing," he said. "We didn't even look at Major League Baseball. We did not look at the NBA. We're happy with what we have, and some of those deals are probably not profitable."

Moonves believes the impact live sports gives CBS’ linear channels could also apply to CBS All Access, which is looking for exclusive hit programming to drive its subscription growth.

Moonves confirmed that the premiere dates of the service’s first big original series have been swapped, with the spin-off of the popular CBS series The Good Wife now slated to debut in January, and Star Trek: Discovery launching in May.

The decision came amid pleadings from Star Trek: Discovery producers Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman.

“The producers came into my office and begged me,” Moonves said. “So we flipped their position on the dial in terms of our calendar.”

For more:
- read this Ad Age story
- read this Deadline Hollywood story

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