CBS Pitches Digital Promo Channel

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CBS Thursday pitched affiliates a “high quality” digital entertainment channel to compete with NBC’s weather and ABC news' multi-platform offerings, an idea that went nowhere a year ago, sidetracked by other issues..

Martin D. Franks, executive VP of CBS TV, who oversees the network’s spectrum policy, legislative, and content areas, told general managers gathered at an annual affiliates at the Bellagio in Las Vegas Thursday that the network would offer a channel containing “making of” footage, basically long-form promos for its “rich potential roster” of sports and entertainment programming.

Franks cited a regular program about Survivor cast-offs that appears weekly on CBS.com as an example of the type of fare he means.

“It could launch in 20 million homes within six months,” he said, adding later in an interview with B&C that local news and weather cut-ins may be part of it as well.

Affiliates, worried that NBC and ABC are getting ahead them, have been anxious to get a digital channel up and running.

The channel could provide CBS O&Os and affiliates with a “backup path” to digital carriage if the network's arguments in Washington for mandatory carriage of broadcasters' multiple digital channels “falls on deaf ears,” Franks told the group during his presentation. The channel would also be a relatively inexpensive start-up.

Calling the environment in Washington “the most difficult” for broadcasters that he has seen in 20 years, Franks implored affiliates to “come together” on a spate of critical spectrum, content piracy and other issues “in the coming weeks and months.”

Meanwhile, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, in his first appearance before the full affiliate body since the controversy erupted surrounding CBS’ story about President Bush’s National Guard service, assured stations that the news organization will emerge on much stronger footing, with stricter standards now in place.

Heyward had ample praise for Bob Schieffer, who has been widely hailed for his work as interim anchor on The CBS Evening News (Schieffer made a brief appearance during Heyward’s presentation and later appeared as a keynote speaker at a luncheon). Heyward also thanked Dan Rather, who left the anchor chair in March, for his years of service, but his comments received virtually no applause from affiliates.

Heyward expressed confidence in the newscast’s new, more interactive direction, in which Schieffer puts questions about stories to correspondents, who provide their own headlines in the show’s opening.

He also discussed replacing the “voice of God” format that CBS Chairman Les Moonves despises with a new multi-anchor approach, and said there would be more announcements concerning the newscast’s new direction before fall.

The planned changes would do nothing to compromise the integrity of CBS News, Heyward said.

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