CBS Corporation has launched a free ad-supported broadband channel called Innertube. The channel, which debuted Thursday, will focus initially on original series for the Web and extra content for existing CBS-branded shows. Advertisers who have signed on to support innertube include Cadbury Schwepps, Pier 1 Imports and Verizon SuperPages.com.
For now, Innertube will not program full-length streaming videos of current CBS series, in part because the network needs to hammer out deals with affiliates to involve them, financially or otherwise, in the broadband venture. The site is slated to add full-length episodes in the future, as well as Webcasts from its library of programming.
“We are confident that, eventually, we will reach a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Nancy Tellum, president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
Involving affiliates will “increase promotional power,” said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. “They have shown a lot of interest in this and participating, and we are inclined to work with them.”
Fox and its affiliates recently reached an agreement that gives stations a cut of revenue from new-media applications in exchange for allowing the network to repurpose its content. ABC, however, has yet to cut its affiliates in on any revenue from streaming its shows online or selling episodes on iTunes.
CBS is launching innertube as the broadcast networks prepare their upfront presentations to advertisers, which will take place the week of May 15. At a time when advertisers are demanding that TV networks prove they can engage viewers on multiple touch points beyond just the television screen, all of the broadcast networks are expected to focus their upfront pitches heavily on their digital products, like broadband web sites and mobile channels.
On Monday Disney-ABC launched a two-month test site of free ad-supported streaming episodes of four of its current series. Cable networks, which have been making their upfront presentations over the past couple of months, have largely weighted their own pitches on new digital products.
Innertube will at first stream three shows each day, with one new program posted every week day. Series slated to debut this month include Greek to Chic, a reality show on makeovers at college; Animate This!, an animated narration of events from celebrities’ lives; and BBQ Bill, a scripted sketch comedy. The site will also re-stream a Pearl Jam performance, which is scheduled to take place on the Late Show with David Letterman tonight and be subsequently webcast on the network’s web site CBS.com. While innertube will program Beyond Survivor, a behind-the-scenes look at the network’s reality show, CBS.com will continue to debut new episodes of the existing online talk show Survivor Live.
Programs to be added this summer will draw content from various assets owned by CBS Corp. Showtime Shorts, for example, will feature independent short films from the company’s pay cable network Showtime. The Best of House Calls will offer highlights from previous episodes of the CBS.com talk show about Big Brother. Original shows slated for this summer include Hook Me Up, an online dating series, and Inturn, a reality search for a castmember for CBS’s daytime soap opera As the World Turns.
CBS has previously offered its content through a pay-to-play model on Google Video and iTunes. In March, it offered free, ad-supported streaming of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, earning a reported $4 million in ad revenues.
Innertube will be restricted solely to CBS Corp.’s entertainment programming. News and sports programming will be siphoned off onto existing Web sites CBSnews.com and CBSSportsLine.com.
“This is truly an entertainment medium,” said Kramer. “This is our entertainment play on the web.”
CBS is aiming its original Web content, like Greek to Chic,at young viewers, who are familiar with video online but not necessarily viewers of the CBS broadcast network. It will also program Love Monkey and other series that were cancelled midseason on CBS, as well as earlier library programming such as I Love Lucy. Other possible content includes pilots that never made it to air on CBS.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to find new distribution channels and new revenue streams from our content as well as additional opportunities to engage with our shows,” said Tellem. “We want our content to be in all of the places the viewer is and they are certainly on the Internet.”
CBS will sell advertising on innertube during the upfront, both to advertisers interested only in online buys, as well as to those who want to buy on both network shows, like Survivor, and their extensions on innertube.
Some of the current advertising deals were structured as product integrations. Restaurant chain Chili’s is featured in the storyline of episodes of Greek to Chic, for example.