CBS chief offers optimistic view of ad market

NEW YORK Tue Sep 9, 2008 5:54pm EDT

Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS Corporation, speaks at a forum titled ''Beyond Primetime, will media help grow healthier kids'' in New York February 6, 2007. REUTERS/Chip East

Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS Corporation, speaks at a forum titled ''Beyond Primetime, will media help grow healthier kids'' in New York February 6, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Chip East

NEW YORK (Reuters) - CBS Corp Chief Executive Les Moonves said national TV advertising remained strong and some local advertising was recovering -- suggesting that marketers haven't cut budgets as deeply as some feared.

Moonves, speaking at a Merrill Lynch media conference on Tuesday, offered "guarded optimism" about advertising in local markets and said that spending even by the troubled U.S. auto sector in 2009 could be stronger than it has been this year.

"The national side has remained strong," Moonves said, when asked whether the weakness of advertising in local TV and radio markets had spread. "It's been a rather normal year."

He added, "I don't see the automotive category being any worse that it is today," he said. "And we're starting to see the beginning of a comeback in some of our categories. I believe a lot of the categories will come back."

CBS depends on advertising revenue from its TV, radio, and outdoor businesses, so concerns that that troubles in the U.S. economy would lead to sharp and lasting cuts in marketing budgets have taken a toll on the company's stock price.

Shares are down more than 35 percent this year, and fell 2.87 percent on Tuesday despite Moonves' upbeat comments.

Asked whether the sharp drop in CBS stock would lead him to consider taking the company private, Moonves replied that such a decision was out of his hands.

"Not my call," he said. "Obviously, we have a chairman that likes a public company. Yes, our stock price is a bargain. It's a bargain."

Sumner Redstone is chairman of both CBS Corp and Viacom Inc, and oversaw the split of the companies in 2006. Shares of Viacom are down more than 30 percent this year.

(Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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