CBS Ponders Digital Versions of Lineup

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As the industry moves closer to reaching a solution over the issue of digital programming rights, CBS is creating separate digital storylines for its new apocalyptic 8 p.m. Wednesday fall drama, Jericho.

The network is exploring doing the same with all of its comedies and dramas, said Nancy Tellem, president of the CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group, Sunday at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour in Pasadena, Calif.

While the specially crafted digital Jericho brand could be extended to CBS.com, other original programming crafted from network series could appear in a variety of venues-ranging from CBS' recently created ad-supported, Web-based Innertube to iPods, cellular phones and other new wireless technologies in development, depending on the best fit.

CBS has had discussions with all of its series producers, who Tellem said are "interested in finding organic ways to be on the internet."

While she was not ready to specifically single out any shows other than Jericho that are ready to go, Tellem pointed to younger-skewing Monday night comedies, such as incoming The Class and sophomore How I Met Your Mother, as two examples of the type of formats that could be applied to the digital world.

Tellem also revealed that she is "very optimistic that over the next few months" the studios and networks "will come to some kind of understanding" for placing programs on digital distribution platforms.

Such a move, which follows CBS recently coming to terms with its affiliates on the issue, would drastically speed up the migration of network programming from outside suppliers to the Web, cellular and wireless distribution devices. To date, the effort has been hampered, as a majority of the fare being repurposed elsewhere has come from in-house produced network programming.

At issue has been the allocation of the revenue split between the studios, which own the content, and the networks, which spend millions to license, schedule, promote and market it.

The impetus to reach a solution resulted from a change in attitudes in recent months, with the industry now realizing that it is a "priority" for programming to appear on as many platforms as possible, Tellem said.

A turning point, according to CBS Digital Media President Larry Kramer, may have come during college basketball's March Madness championship series this spring. That's when huge demand for CBS'on-demand iPod and Web coverage of the games from its College Sports Television Networks (CSTV) finally forced advertisers to take a serious look at digital as a mass marketing tool.

Once networks and studios can hammer out an accord, the next step will be to figure out a formula agreeable to the unions. Digital rights could be a huge issue when the industry's negotiations begin next year with the Writers Guild's West and East Coast branches over a new contract, with the actors and directors guilds to follow.

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