September 24, 2012

"I Love Lucy" Still Brings in Millions for CBS

Over 50 years after the classic sitcom "I Love Lucy," which starred Lucille Ball and real-life husband Desi Arnaz, went off the air, it's still a big income generator for studio CBS.

The show brings in around $20 million to the studio annually, according to CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York recently. Reruns of the show still run on a regular basis on the cable channel TV Land.

"I Love Lucy" aired from 1951-57, and featured Ball and Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo; the couple were married for 20 years and owned a production company, Desilu Productions, together.

Moonves stressed the value of CBS' new and old content, particularly as new platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are spending heavily for product.

While TV networks make a big portion of their revenue through advertising and current series, they also make ends meet by selling shows they own to other outlets in syndication and online. Moonves noted that series like "NCIS" and "CSI," which have episodes that are self-contained and don't rely on connecting story arcs, do well in syndication, while other series with soapier storytelling do well in places like Netflix.

"The world is a beautiful place, we're going to get paid more and more and more," Moonves said.

That said, CBS is still more conservative than other programmers when it comes to selling content to online streaming services and Moonves does not plan on changing that strategy.

For example, ABC parent Walt Disney Co. recently sold the first seasons of its dramas "Revenge," "Scandal" and "Once Upon a Time" to Netflix.

CBS does not sell episodes of any series currently on its air to a streaming service out of fear that it could hurt potential rerun sales down the road.

"Syndication is still the big dog here versus the online stuff," he said. Either way, the options for continuing to make money off of old classics seem endless. 

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