CBS in Web distribution deals for its TV shows

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CBS Corp. on Thursday announced a new plan to grow its online distribution with a slew of partners except for Google Inc.'s YouTube and the forthcoming NBC Universal/News Corp. joint venture.

Ten partners, including AOL, Microsoft Corp., Comcast Corp., CNET Networks, Brightcove and Joost, have signed on in an effort dubbed the CBS Interactive Audience Network, aimed at pushing CBS content to all corners of the Web.

CBS' offering will be ad-supported and free to consumers, with revenue shared between the network and its distribution partners. CBS will begin selling the network to advertisers in coming weeks, including the upfront marketplace. The venture likely is to go live by the summer.

But conspicuously absent from the list of partners is Google, which CBS futilely tried to land a deal with in previous months, and the untitled joint venture NBC Uni and News Corp. launched last month, which has been informally referred to as Newco.

CBS Interactive president Quincy Smith confirmed that CBS chafed at the prospect of joining Newco because of exclusivity demands that could prevent distribution with other ventures that aren't participating. He also questioned Newco's intent to create its own branded site.

"I don't think the world needs another portal," said Smith, who added that CBS still is in discussions with Newco. "We can't exclusively tie ourselves up and spend time and money trying to promote a site out of nowhere."

CBS also is holding conversations with YouTube and Yahoo! Inc., with which it already has distribution agreements, and News Corp.'s MySpace.

RBC Capital Markets managing director Jordan Rohan sees the new CBS strategy as an attempt to better position itself at the negotiation table. "CBS needs to establish its consumer value proposition online," he said. "Once they do that, then the larger players are more likely to respond."

Rohan also noted that the contrast in strategy between CBS and Viacom, which are both controlled by Sumner Redstone, is not coincidental. Viacom has sued Google and beefed up efforts to distribute video online via its own branded assets.

"They're going different ways right now because no one knows which strategy is going to work," Rohan said. "Once it's acknowledged what will work, CBS and Viacom will have similar strategies."

The timing of CBS' announcement also is opportune given the approaching upfront marketplace and the rising tide of dollars flowing from television to the Internet. Television programrs are looking to bundle cross-platform deals for willing marketers.

Smith said advertising terms were yet to be determined but added that marketers will have flexibility to pick what shows and platforms they want.

What remains to be seen is whether Newco will relax its exclusivity restrictions with CBS going its own way and the possibility that other potential media partners could do the same.

A rotating list of shows will be offered on the network, including "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "Late Show With David Letterman," "Survivor" and "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric." The initiative also will make sports programming available with "Showtime Championship Boxing" and the "CSTV Game of the Week" as well as classic programming from CBS' library.

The content will be presented on such platforms as Microsoft's MSN Video, AOL Video as well as Comcast.net and Fancast, which the cable operator purchased this week.

The network also will be distributed via Joost, which has existing deals with Viacom; CNET Network's TV.com, which will build an interactive environment for "CSI"; social network Bebo; Sling Media, via its forthcoming SlingPlayer software and SlingCatcher platform; Veoh, which will provide branded and customized channels; and Netvibes, a personal RSS aggregator.

Smith added that the deal was put together in eight days. "I give full tribute to the partners," he said. "I don't think CBS has pulled together this many partners in such a short amount of time."

In addition, the network has existing distribution deals with Amazon Unbox, Apple Inc.'s iTunes and Microsoft's Xbox.

The service will be powered by Akamai Technologies Inc.
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