CBS Corp. (CBS) CEO Leslie Moonves has never been a man to check his real feelings.
And on Thursday, Sept. 14, at an appearance at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York, Moonves leaned into his biggest rivals, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) and Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. (FOXA) , questioning some of their recent decisions and strategies in the combative if jovial style that has been his trademark ever since rising to chairman of the broadcaster in 2003.
First up was Disney.
"We didn't go buy BAMTech for a zillion dollars," Moonves said, a reference to Disney CEO Bob Iger's decision to actually spend $2.6 billion in two transactions to acquire a majority stake in the technology company, which operates a slew of direct-to-consumer services. By contrast, Moonves said CBS has developed its own technology in house to power CBS All Access and Showtime as standalone streaming services.
"We did it internally, which is a big plus."
On ESPN and Disney's struggles to stanch accelerating declines in subscribers, Moonves said the problem may simply be programing. CBS is planning to launch its own direct-to-consumer sports service, which he said would focus on highlights and game scores.
"We think there's a place in the marketplace for straight, factual, clips, highlights, scores," Moonves said. "I'm a big sports fan, and I'm turning on ESPN a lot, and I'm seeing people yelling at each other. I want to see whether the Dodgers or the Yankees won last night."
CBS is negotiating with sports leagues for rights to use game highlights on a dedicated sports platform, Moonves said, adding that he's confident the necessary arrangements will be made to secure that content. The service will include advertisements, though at some point, he said, it could be completely supported by subscriptions.
And in a contrast to Fox, Moonves said CBS remains focused on its broadcast network rather than cable networks or international pay-TV. Moonves took a shot at Fox co-chairman Lachlan Murdoch, who a day earlier at the conference said the Fox network wasn't as important to the company's immediate growth plans as closing the Sky plc deal, investing in its cable networks and beefing up its pan-Asian pay-TV network, Star TV.
"I heard them say that the network is not a core asset," he said. "We don't feel that way. ... We make a lot of money" from the network.
As for the decline in cable TV subscribers, Moonves argued, the trend toward digital platforms and away from traditional pay-TV has been a net positive for CBS.
That's because when a viewer cuts-the-cord, they go somewhere else, Moonves argued. And that might mean one of the new digital pay-TV bundles such as Sling TV from Dish Network Corp. (DISH) or DirecTV Now from AT&T Inc. (T) . It also could mean direct-to-consumer offerings such as his own, CBS All Access and Showtime.
"When ESPN or Comcast (CMCSA) announces it's losing subs, that's a good thing for CBS," he said. "These cord-cutters, they're not disappearing, going into the woods and avoiding television. They're just going to other services, and we're going to be in all of them."
CBS, he said, is paid about $2 per subscriber on traditional pay-TV, $4 per subscriber on digital pay-TV services, and a whopping $6 per user at its own CBS All Access and Showtime. The move toward pay-TV bundles also is valuing broadcast networks at higher rates than they've received by pay-TV operators.
"With the new skinny bundles, we're starting on a level playing field," he said. "The biggest eyeballs are getting paid the biggest dollars."