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Filmmaker freedom from Netflix and Amazon is 'overrated,' CBS CEO Leslie Moonves says

Filmmaker freedom from Netflix and Amazon is 'overrated,' CBS CEO Leslie Moonves says
CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, left, and Universal Filmed Entertainment Chair Jeff Shell at the Milken Institute Global Conference. (Getty Images)

For filmmakers and television producers, Netflix and other digital media players offer some oft-touted perks. They pay healthy sums of money for their original movies and TV shows, and, some argue, give their filmmakers more freedom than the traditional system.

But don't tell that to CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves.

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"Autonomy is overrated," the executive said in remarks Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, adding that he helped cast the popular 1990s sitcom "Friends." "I'd like to think, as a television executive, that we add something to the process."

Mooves' comments came during a panel discussion on the changing entertainment business with other industry heavyweights including Universal Filmed Entertainment Chair Jeff Shell and DreamWorks Animation Chair Mellody Hobson.

The CBS chief was responding to Creative Artists Agency President Richard Lovett, who said during the panel that outlets such as Netflix and Amazon offer some advantages to filmmakers and talent.

Filmmaker autonomy is a key selling point for Netflix and the like, which are aggressively vying for new shows to attract subscribers.

But Moonves, 65, was having none of it, joking to Lovett, "I'm about to pick my new schedule, so be careful."

CBS boasts the nation's most-watched television network; a chain of TV and radio stations, including KCBS-TV Channel 2, KCAL-TV Channel 9 and KNX-AM (1070); the Simon & Schuster book publishing house; and premium pay channel Showtime.

Netflix, thanks to shows including "House of Cards" and "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," is seen as a competitor to premium cable channels like Showtime.

The panel, moderated by CNBC reporter Julia Boorstin at the Beverly Hilton, touched on a wide range of entertainment business topics, including the rise of the China box office and the need for greater diversity in Hollywood. 

The film and television business is trying to figure out how to best respond to the growing demand for entertainment content outside the United States. Last year the worldwide box office grew to a record $38.3 billion, fueled by a nearly 50% increase in ticket sales in China.

Universal Pictures parent NBCUniversal, owned by cable giant Comcast Corp., last week announced plans to buy DreamWorks Animation for $3.8 billion, partly because of its connections in the global film marketplace, as well as its trove of valuable characters and properties such as "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda."

Hobson, who is also president of Ariel Investments, said DreamWorks agreed to sell to NBCUniversal partly in response to the continuing concentration of the movie and TV industry into a few colossal corporate entities.

"The industry is in a time of great consolidation and change," she said. "We don't know what this will completely look like in the next decade."

Shell said that DreamWorks has an impressive roster of franchises, but noted that as one of the few remaining standalone studios, it doesn't have the same marketing prowess as its conglomerate-owned competitors. For example, Shell said NBC's upcoming broadcast of the Summer Olympics could be a massive platform for DreamWorks content.

"Dreamworks, as a small independent company, was really missing that firehose of promotion," Shell said.

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The Universal Pictures film studio enjoyed a blockbuster year in 2015 thanks to movies such as "Furious 7," "Jurassic World" and "Minions" that performed well outside the U.S.

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