CBS Makes Web Play With Grab Bag of Content Deals

Hoping to expand its reach and capture more advertising revenue, CBS has struck deals with ten Internet-related companies that will distribute its content over the Web.

With its so-called CBS Interactive Audience Network, the veteran broadcasting company will become “the most widely distributed professional content provider online,” it asserted in announcing the deals.

The content distribution arrangements — with AOL, Microsoft, Cnet Networks, Comcast, Joost, Bebo, Brightcove, Netvibes, Sling Media and Veoh — will come as additions to existing pacts with Amazon, Apple and Yahoo.

All content to be distributed will be ad-supported and free to viewers. The online programming is scheduled to begin in several weeks with United States’ consumers being able to see all of the content, while others around the world will be able to access “select clips” and sports programming, CBS said.

Spreading Its Wings

The deals are a major part of the company’s plan to “distribute content broadly across the online interactive landscape on an open, nonexclusive basis,” CBS President and CEO Les Moonves said.

The evolution of broadcasting beyond television and radio may be the motivating factor behind the CBS Interactive Audience Network, as the network strives to make its content available via as many distribution methods as possible and on all types of devices.

The deals are “really all about the user,” said CBS Interactive President Quincy Smith, who noted that CBS, “in remaining open to all online distributors,” can learn about its audience, gain exposure to new viewers and be flexible enough to “cater to their changing consumption habits.”

Scrambling to Catch Up

However, Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, sees a tinge of panic between the lines of CBS’ announcement.

“It’s interesting that now, as the business model of the new Internet-distributed television is taking shape, it’s not happening the way it did when we went from radio to TV,” Thompson told the E-Commerce Times.

Broadcasting went “almost seamlessly” from radio to TV, he said, even though the television, like the Internet, was a revolutionary new technology.

“Strangely enough, that did not happen in this case,” said Thompson. “What happened is they (the TV networks) kind of let the Internet develop in the sort of renegade, grassroots, all-over-the-place way it did, and now they are having to find ways to graft their hold onto this existing environment.”

Questionable Tactics?

Most observers initially figured the networks would all make deals with YouTube to air their content, said Thompson.

“It became more than clear, however, that these big content providers were not going to sit back and let YouTube have all their material,” he noted.

CBS’s plan to have its content scattered over more than a dozen Web sites is somewhat confusing, noted Thompson.

“It’s eminently unclear how this is going to work,” he stated. “They made deals with everybody. … The list is really substantial. It’s somewhere between ‘We control the material and you have to come to us to get it’ and the YouTube renegade approach. It’s hard to judge how this is going to work. It seems like CBS is making the decision they are going to try to get on every single site anybody could possibly be on. But that’s so much not how the Internet works.”

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