Eye pitches digital web to its affils

CBS offers up potential lineup for promo-heavy channel

LAS VEGAS — CBS pitched affiliates Thursday to help launch a digital channel that would rely heavily on promotional content from primetime Eye skeins.

Meeting with stations for the second day here at the Bellagio hotel, CBS execs said the service — which Eye stations would multicast via their digital spectrum — may include outtakes of shows like “Two and a Half Men”; cutting-room floor footage from reality skeins such as “The Amazing Race”; and even electronic press kits of CBS skeins produced by the net’s PR department.

The net also pointed specifically at the Eye’s “Survivor Live” call-in show, which streams on CBS’ Web site the day after “Survivor” airs on the net each week, as another logical choice for the web. News and sports elements would also be a part of the lineup.

“There’s a rich potential roster of interesting programming that promotes, complements, extends and at times even counterprograms the network,” said CBS Television exec VP Marty Franks.

Although still in early stages, CBS programmers are already mulling the channel’s programming makeup, Franks said. In comparison, ABC is pitching stations its “ABC News Now” feed for digital carriage, while NBC has been pushing a weather web.

Franks called the digital channel a “plan B” approach for stations, particularly in small and medium markets, to securing digital carriage from cable operators.

A similar plan was highlighted at last year’s affiliates confab, but Franks said the network got sidetracked by other spectrum proposals.

“We are, as a company, unabashedly in favor of multichannel programming,” said Cox Television prexy Andy Fisher. “With advanced compression and economic opportunities, CBS is looking at more programming opportunities — which I’m delighted to see.”

Freedom Broadcasting prexy Doreen Wade, who also serves as CBS affiliate board topper, said stations and the network began discussing the digital channel strategy in earnest at a March board meeting.

“We’re anxious to get going,” she said. “It’s a fabulous idea, although they don’t have fully thought-out ideas yet.”

Digital deal ahead

Wade said the Eye and affils will likely hammer out the digital spectrum proposal over the next few months while working on a renewal of their “NFL Value Exchange” deal (in which stations help cover a portion of the net’s pricey football rights).

The two sides also are working closely on how to handle retransmission consent agreements. Eye has said it will push cable systems to pay for the right to continue carrying its owned-and-operated outlets.

“We’ve agreed to agree on that,” Wade said. “We’re finding common broadcast issues to tackle together.”

Meanwhile, the network assured affiliates that broadcast standards were “alive and well” at the net, a year after the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl incident brought indecency issues to the fore.

Franks said the net had invested “millions in new systems for state-of-the-art, HD-capable audio and video delays.”

“Since the Super Bowl, there have been no FCC findings of indecent programming on CBS — not one,” Franks said. “In this area of crucial importance, we continue to act responsibly.”

More news tweaking

As for the CBS News beat, division prexy Andrew Heyward said the Eye would roll out more “Evening News” experiments this summer and disclose more about the future of the program before fall.

The departure of Dan Rather “created not just an option but an obligation to take a hard look at the evening news format,” Heyward said. “That process is already under way … Bob (Schieffer) has given the ‘Evening News’ stability and credibility in the wake of Dan Rather’s departure.”

Heyward also addressed “60 Minutes Wednesday’s” so-called Memogate scandal, thanking stations for “standing with us.”

“We are a better news organization now because of what we’ve been through,” he said.

Relations between network and affils were upbeat throughout the two-day confab. Wade said stations appreciated that CBS still threw a stand-alone affiliates meeting — an event its competitors have done away with.

“It’s one of the reasons we have such a strong partnership,” she said.

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