innertube Floats Original Content

May 8, 2006  •  Post A Comment

When CBS announced last week the launch of its new broadband entertainment site innertube, ad sales president Jo Ann Ross said her phone started ringing off the hook.

“I personally had four major agencies call and a couple of clients directly to say, ‘Tell us more,'” Ms. Ross said.

CBS and its broadcast competitors have moved to put some of their programs and related content onto the Web in search of new revenue streams. But CBS’s innertube is the first to create original content specifically for broadband.

“This is what’s so exciting about innertube,” said Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group. “This gives us a whole new opportunity to develop really new ideas on a platform that doesn’t demand the high costs we’re experiencing on the network side.” And if something really clicks, it could migrate from the Web back to television, she said.

“It’s a little bit more youth-oriented and edgier,” said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital, describing the innertube content his programming group has developed. “It looks a little bit more like some of the very successful cable content you’ve seen over the past few years.”

Younger viewers are becoming more accustomed to grabbing programming from the Web. “Obviously, most of them are hooked up with computers, and I think you’ll find on a lot of college campuses kids are clearly more apt to have a computer before they have a television,” said Rino Scanzoni, chief investment officer for Mediaedge:cia.

Given the vast number of Web sites, he said, “My sense is it’s hard to launch an original series on broadband unless you have drivers from bigger arenas like the broadcast network or a heavily visited Web site.”

Mr. Scanzoni said advertisers are willing to experiment with the networks as they move into broadband. “I think you can only learn by doing,” he said.

Three Programming Types

Mr. Kramer, the architect of CBS’s Internet strategy, said the success of CBS Sportsline’s March Madness on Demand, which put live NCAA Tournament games online for free, “proved there was a business in advertising-supported Web video” by generating 20 million streams. “The magic is to come up with more content,” he said, particularly content that comes from trusted sources, unlike some of the sketchy user-generated content being posted on many of the popular sites.

Ms. Tellem said innertube will offer three types of programming. One is regular television programming from the CBS library, such as “I Love Lucy” or the “Brady Bunch”; shows that didn’t make it on broadcast, such as “Love Monkey”; or, once a deal is reached with affiliates, replays of current network shows. Some unsuccessful pilots may also be webcast on innertube.

The second type of programming will be online extensions of popular CBS shows such as “Survivor” that offer viewers a chance to learn more and spend additional time with the programs.

And third, original programming created specifically for broadband.

Innertube’s first original show, “Greek to Chic,” doesn’t look like something you would see on CBS-traditionally the oldest-skewing of the major broadcast networks. With college kids picking dates and getting dressed for parties, it looks more like something that would be on MTV.

Other original shows premiering on innertube this month include “BBQ Bill,” a scripted sketch-comedy series starring Rick Najera, and “Animate This,” in which celebrities narrate amusing events from their lives.

More shows will appear during the summer, including “The Green Room,” an entertainment magazine that CBS said takes a somewhat irreverent look at CBS programming; “Hook Me Up,” a look at online dating; “Inturn,” a reality show offering a part on “As The World Turns” as the prize”; and “Showtime Shorts,” a collection of comedic films that first ran on the pay cable service Showtime.

At launch, innertube had signed Brinkmann Corp., Cadbury Schweppes, Chili’s, Pier 1 Imports and Verizon SuperPages.com as advertisers. In “Greek to Chic,” the kids are shown at a Chili’s restaurant, drinking Dr Pepper, and one even wears a Dr Pepper T-shirt. Ms. Tellem said product integration will be used in some online shows, as it is on broadcast.

‘A Moment in History’

Shows on innertube will be sold by both Mr. Kramer’s digital group and Ms. Ross’s network group, which has relationships with big advertisers that already sponsor CBS shows and that would want to get on board with their digital extensions.

“This is a moment in history where advertisers and programmers have come together to really come up with new ideas of how to do everything,” Mr. Kramer aid.

Since CBS doesn’t have a good base in cable, Mr. Kramer has been eying broadband as a way to bypass cable and get more of the programming it creates to viewers.

“Our Web businesses are profitable now,” Mr. Kramer said. “We intend to continue to be profitable, but we’re investing in this. By keeping cost down on Web production we’re able to run this thing fairly tightly and bring in advertisers.” “We’re always looking for opportunities to find new distribution channels and new revenue streams for our content as well as additional opportunities for advertisers to engage with our shows and provide more touch points for our TV audience with our programming brands,” Ms. Tellem said.

The move into digital marks a fundamental change for companies rooted in television. “The strength that they have is not their network. The strength that they have is their content and their ability to find new distribution streams and monetize. That is what this market is entirely about,” said Peter Gardiner, partner and chief media officer for ad agency Deutsch.

CBS executives said that while the network was negotiating with affiliates about running shows on broadband, it was also working with the affiliates on another project that would create a second CBS broadcast service using some of the stations’ digital bandwidth and alternative programming from the network. Those talks are ongoing, a CBS spokesman said.