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'ET', MSN Ink Deal

Pact moves content online 8/03/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

CBS and Microsoft have reached an agreement for Entertainment Tonight to become the premier provider of entertainment news to MSN, the Internet's seventh-largest Web portal.

ET, syndication's top-rated entertainment magazine, will have a branded presence on MSN Entertainment and will provide content across the entire section, providing articles, videos and photos for MSN Television, MSN Music and MSN Movies.

ET already has begun providing some content to MSN, but the deal officially launches with the start of the new season in early September. CBS is working hard to bring ET and its sister show, The Insider, fully into the digital age: Over the summer, both ET and The Insider moved to brand-new high-definition studios in Studio City, Calif. ET and The Insider start broadcasting in HD on Sept. 8.

MSN will sell advertising for the portal, but in a syndication-like model, CBS is getting a cash guarantee plus a revenue split for advertising sales. For CBS, the deal is expected to gross well into the seven figures in the first year.

In addition to ad revenues, the venture should significantly boost ET's online traffic and exposure, most of which now is confined to the show's CBS-run Web site, ET Online. MSN.com averaged 107.3 million unique U.S. visitors and 18 billion U.S. page views in June, according to comScore Media Metrix.

“This is a perfect example of the type of endeavors we've charged [CBS Executive VP] Scott Koondel and his new-media sales team with,” said John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution. “This exciting partnership is a natural extension of the ET brand and should bring value to our affiliate stations, our viewers and now, our online consumers.”

In August 2003, ET announced a long-term deal for Yahoo to run its Website, ET on Yahoo. Once CBS became more digitally savvy, it brought management of the site back in-house. Since then, ET Online has been a standalone entertainment site. It recently has been attracting 1.7 million unique visitors a month, a 55% improvement over 2007's online performance. ET Executive Producer Linda Bell Blue expects the new deal to bring “stratospheric exposure” to the show, both online and on-air.

The ET staff already works long days, starting work around 5 a.m., but the show now will be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, updating MSN whenever entertainment news breaks.

To prepare for the change, the show has increased its online production staff by 30%, says Bell Blue, who also executive-produces CBS' The Insider.

“We are staffed up, geared up, and ready to go 24/7,” Bell Blue says. “We want to take our content to new places.”

ET's staff will be on hand to update the portal anytime news happens, Bell Blue says, whether that's Grammy-winning singer Amy Winehouse getting busted at midnight in London or young movie star Shia LeBoeuf rolling his truck in the early morning hours in Los Angeles. The environment has become increasingly competitive, including pressure from upstart TMZ.com, which also has a syndicated television show.

“So much news breaks overnight and we're going to be all over all of it,” Bell Blue says.

ET will provide MSN with a minimum of five videos a day, some of which will be exclusive to MSN. It also will produce a daily mini-newscast called ET on MSN. The newscast will run about two minutes long and feature ET's top-name talent, including Mary Hart, Jann Carl, Mark Steines, Kevin Frazier, Steven Cojocaru and Thea Andrews.

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