CBS, Microsoft Ink Interactive TV Pact

In a first for the nascent interactive television market, CBS Television and Microsoft WebTV Networks Inc. have struck a deal to jointly deliver interactive television programming, beginning with the start of the 2000-2001 TV season.

CBS and Microsoft said the new interactive programming will include dramas, comedies, sports, specials, movies and variety shows. The pact is the first to include interactive programming for comedy and drama series, the firms said in a joint statement.

The deal stands to benefit not only Microsoft, but the entire fledgling interactive television industry, according to Adam Gelles of interactive television consulting firm 4th Dimension Interactive, Inc.

“Its a good thing for Microsoft because it will give them a foot in the ITV door,” Gelles told the E-Commerce Times. “CBS and all the major networks are now starting to realize how important interactive television is to the bottom line.”

Drawing Advertisers Is Key

Gelles said the partnership will accelerate the development of interactive television content and attract new advertisers lured by the millions of viewers who are expected to tune in for an interactive viewing experience.

“Advertisers are not going to get involved unless there are at least two million viewers,” he said.

WebTV Networks already has more than one million subscribers and other interactive TV companies account for about two million more. Studies, however, show that interactive television subscribers are expected to total 25 million within the next five years.

Details Remain

Specific programs that will include interactive elements have not been announced, but CBS said it expects to initially provide about 500 hours of enhanced programming that will allow subscribers of Microsoft’s WebTV Plus or Ultimate Plus to access content on demand, such as sports scores, interactive polls and cast biographies.

“We’re pushing the envelope for television enhancements,” said Joe Poletto, vice president of the Network Media Group at WebTV Networks. “This is particularly important to us because it includes a variety of television genres, which will broaden the appeal of interactive television.”

Viewers who do not have WebTV or subscribers who do not want to use the interactive feature can continue to see regular programming.

Microsoft Meets ‘Big Brother’

Terms of the deal between the television network and the Redmond, Washington-based software giant were not officially disclosed. According to published reports, Microsoft will pay CBS $20 million (US$) as part of the arrangement.

After a summer highlighted by strong online interest in CBS’ two so-called reality shows, “Survivor” and “Big Brother,” CBS seemed only too happy to take the opportunity to continue down the interactive TV path.

“We’ve seen how interactive elements can supplement the television viewing experience,” said Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive officer of CBS Television.

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