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CBS Boss: 'House of Cards' Is Great, but Netflix's Hits Are Few and Far Between

"You hit a grand slam home run in your first time at bat," CBS CEO Les Moonves says he told Netflix.

Asa Mathat for Re/code
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Les Moonves, the head of CBS, likes online video companies like Netflix and Amazon because they pay his network “hundreds of millions of dollars a year.” But they’re also increasingly a competitor as they create more of their own shows, which brought out Moonves’s competitive spirit Wednesday in an onstage interview with Kara Swisher.

“My life is much better with Netflix in it than without it,” he said at the second annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. At the same time, Moonves says he has told Netflix programming director Ted Sarandos that the success of “House of Cards,” the online streaming company’s original series that stars Kevin Spacey, is more the exception than the rule.

“‘It’s not that easy,'” Moonves said he told Sarandos. “‘You hit a grand slam home run in your first time at bat.'”

“There are a lot of misses there,” he added, referencing other Netflix shows.

Swisher, Re/code’s co-executive editor, reminded Moonves that Netflix has also found success in its jailhouse show, “Orange Is the New Black.”

“We don’t know,” he said. “They don’t give us numbers.”

Moonves, who loves the attention that comes with provocative comments, punched back again when Swisher asked if he was jealous of Netflix.

“For every Chelsea Handler that doesn’t want to be on network television, I’ve got Stephen Colbert who does,” he said. “I think I’ve won.”

Moonves’s confidence comes from a position of strength. The 65-year-old joined CBS in 1995 as the president of CBS Entertainment and, over the last decade-plus, has developed a reputation as the TV executive with the best track record of finding and airing hit TV shows. The CSI franchise, “Survivor” and “The Big Bang Theory” are some of CBS’ hits under Moonves’s watch.

Still, times have changed, and CBS, like many traditional networks, faces the challenge of media consumption migrating to digital mediums. Moonves has been known to say that CBS will be a good spot no matter what screen viewers are using, as long as it continues to churn out hit programming. But the uncertainty remains. What happens in a world where ad dollars continue to move to platforms CBS doesn’t own and Netflix and Amazon attract more eyeballs to shows they make themselves?

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