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CBS Bets Content Is King With Steven Spielberg’s “Extant”

Douglas A. McIntyre

CBS Corp. (CBS) has to be among the largest American corporations that believes "content is king." It operates sports, news and entertainment divisions, and a fleet of cable networks. All spend lavishly on content. CBS proved it is willing to double down on expensive programs as it ordered a 13-episode series of Steven Spielberg's "Extant." Given the reputation of Spielberg's Amblin production operation, the deal could have been nothing other than extremely expensive. However, Wall Street seems to love these gambles, based on its support of CBS shares.

The CBS gamble is the second recent one with Spielberg's programming team. The network already has made a commitment to Amblin's adaptation of Stephen King's "Under the Dome." King has written so many bestsellers that the success of the show would seem assured. However, the history of television is littered with programs that nose-dived despite famous writers and producers.

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The network could not have been more effusive in its praise of the team that will produce "Extant." The Huffington Post reported:

“'Extant' is a very original concept with layers of humanity, mystery and surprise that reveal itself throughout the script,” Nina Tassler, President of CBS Entertainment, said in a statement. “Our partnership with Amblin for 'Under the Dome' showed that viewers respond to high-quality event programming in the summer. We look forward to building on that with 'Extant' and offering CBS audiences another high-concept, unique event for summer television.”

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CBS has reason to argue that its investment in "Under the Dome" was a smart risk. Nielsen numbers for August 5 showed that the program drew 10.2 million viewers in the 10 p.m. time slot. NBC's "Siberia" drew 1.9 viewers in the same period. As a matter of fact, no show aired in prime time that night even approached the "Under the Dome" figures.

In the June quarter, CBS revenue rose 11% to $3.7 billion. Per-share earings rose 12% to $0.76. CBS demonstrated that programming, even high-priced programming, can yield strong returns. Sales at its entertainment division rose 18% to $2.1 billion. Leslie Moonves, CBS's CEO, is among the few chief executives who bragged about second-quarter results, having posted numbers that supported them:

Double-digit revenue growth -- and the best quarterly profits we’ve ever had -- add up to a phenomenal quarter for CBS. Across the board, CBS’s world-class content continues to drive our results. From Under the Dome, which is changing the face of summer programming on network television, to Ray Donovan, which has refilled the pipeline at Showtime in a big way, new owned content continues to flourish throughout our Company.

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Paying up for content rarely has looked so smart.

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