Webcasting of ‘Big Bro 2’ shows Net can be profitable

CBS, Real gain consistent subscriber growth

The successful subscription-only “Big Brother 2” Webcast has CBS execs actively pursuing new ways to exploit the Eye’s on-air content via the Web.

Final figures from the Real Networks/CBS Webcast — which began July 5 and ended last week — show 56,026 consumers paid up to $19.95 to access four 24-hour streaming video feeds from inside the “Big Brother” house in Studio City. Surfers could choose between a monthly $9.95 subscription or a $19.95 Gold Pass membership that allowed access to the video for the length of the series.

In addition, CBS said 41,814 additional consumers who already had Gold Pass memberships from Real also accessed the “Big Brother” feeds on a regular basis.

It’s hard to compare the “Big Brother” numbers to other Webcasts since the Real/CBS partnership marked the first time a TV network offered a subscription service tied to an entertainment series.

Exceeded expectations

Nonetheless, “These numbers far exceeded our expectations,” said CBS veep for strategic planning and interactive ventures David Katz, noting that even with bandwidth and other associated costs, CBS and Real still made money.

“This thing was highly profitable,” he said.

What’s more, as ratings for the “Big Brother 2” TV series grew, so did the number of people signing up for the Webcast. “We had consistent subscriber growth,” Katz said.

Total revenue from the Webcasts was under $1 million, but for Katz, the actual coin earned from the venture isn’t key. What’s important is what it portends for the future.

“Through this experiment, we’ve seen there clearly is value in using our content on a subscription basis,” he said. “It will allow us to diversify our revenue streams. This is just the beginning.”

Katz is already working to figure out what other CBS properties may lend themselves to Web subscriptions.

More opportunities

“We’re going to be having many conversations soon,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities.”

Katz wouldn’t discuss which skeins may translate into compelling subscription services, but one Eye series seems an obvious candidate: “Survivor.” Skein has a huge Web fan base, as witnessed by the nearly 1 million page views generated last week at the show’s official Web site following the announcement of the show’s new cast.

Eye’s decision to charge for the “Big Brother” feed — which a year ago was offered free to surfers — generated a considerable amount of controversy among Netizens, upset at having to fork over cash for what was once free.

Katz admits there was “an uproar” but argues there was no way CBS could continue to subsidize the cost of the Webcasts.

“It was an economic unreality,” he said.

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