CBS, NBC Universal, News Corp, and WPP CEOs Talk Content & Ads

family watching tv
family watching tv

Goldman Sachs' Communacopia hosted some major media CEOs Wednesday afternoon: the mood was upbeat with advertising on the rebound.

They also had plenty to say about the value of content — and protecting that content — in the new digital landscape.

NBC Universal's CEO Jeff Zucker weighed in on Apple's new 99-cent digital rentals, saying that NBC is unlikely to participate. He noted that NBC's shows are available to buy for $1.99, saying that selling them at a discount would devalue their content.

CBS' CEO Les Moonves reports that broadcast advertising rates are up 30 percent from rates locked in during the Upfront ad sales period. Political advertising is expected to give a big boost this year, but Moonves still thinks that next year's ad revenue will be even bigger.

Moonves spoke a bit about his caution on the digital distribution front — his network is the only one of the big four to sit out Hulu (DIS, NWS, GE), and they aren't offering streaming episodes for 99 cents as Disney/ABC and News Corp are. Moonves is very cautious about giving away content for less than it's worth — but now that Hulu has launched its subscription service, "Hulu Plus," he's taking another look. He also said that he's paying close attention to Netflix as a new source of revenue; just last month Epix struck a programming deal with Netflix valued at $1 billion.

News Corp's COO Chase Carey highlighted the potential in digital revenues and downplayed the risk of consumers "cutting the cord." He was bullish on the TV business, saying that the ad market continues to be "really good" both locally and nationally. Turning broadcast into a dual revenue business like the cable business also is a big win for the company.

In response to questions about whether consumers will stop paying their cable bill because of access to content though Netflix and the like, he acknowledged that digital is an issue to "manage." He said that especially when it comes to giving away content for free, as newspapers have for years, "you have to be careful that habits don't develop."

News Corp will "much more aggressively start to manage windows, content, pricing, authentication." He described News Corp 99-cent rentals through iTunes, as a "short term test." And all these new digital streams aren't bad news — the iPad opens up real opportunities.

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell was extremely bullish about the advertising market, saying that he's seeing sequential month-over-month growth this year. Some of it's a dead cat bounce, some of it's the fact that if you stimulate the economy it must improve. But bottom line: autos and financial services, which were particularly weak, are coming back.

WPP's August revenues were up almost 8 percent over the year-earlier quarter. Year-to-date the company's revenues are up 3.5 percent, on track for 4 percent growth for the full year. In contrast, 2009 was down 4 percent.

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