Netco, CBS pact for vid downloads

Ready for “CSI: Google?”

The search giant is set to announce at the Consumer Electronics Show today a partnership with CBS to sell new and library programs via the Net. Similar to pacts putting Disney and NBC U content on iTunes, Google will offer skeins for download at a price that should match or be close to iTunes’ $1.99.

Neither company would comment, but sources close to the deal confirmed Google will very soon start selling downloads of CBS shows. While exact details weren’t available, it’s expected to include a mix of just-aired skeins and library programs.

Unless it gets agreements from other studios, CBS will be able to offer only shows it produces or co-produces and airs, such as the “CSI” franchise, “King of Queens” and “Late Night With David Letterman.” CBS partner UPN initially won’t be part of the offering.

Deal is non-exclusive, meaning CBS still could distribute its shows online via iTunes or other partners.

It’s part of a broader expansion of Google Video, a product that has thus far consisted of user-submitted clips and still images with transcripts of network shows. While Google has previously focused only on search, it is moving into areas like video where it competes directly with portals such as Yahoo and AOL, as well as iTunes.

In addition to CBS, the NBA is expected to offer video on a pay-per-download basis through Google.

Google users should be able to watch CBS shows on computers and some portable devices, but probably not on the iPod Video, as Apple does not allow competing digital rights management technologies on its players.

Online distribution deals are a clear win for networks, since they get incremental revenue via their portion of download fees at virtually no additional cost. That’s likely to please shareholders of the newly independent CBS.

AOL soon will launch its previously announced In2TV, a free, ad-supported online library of shows from Warner Bros. In addition, the portal is expected to start selling shows online, similar to Google and iTunes, by the end of 2006.

“The fastest way to grow this market is via free, ad-supported content,” Kevin Conroy, AOL’s exec VP of media networks, said Thursday at CES. “We expect to launch transactional video-on-demand later this year.”

In a keynote address Thursday morning, Sony CEO Howard Stringer outlined his company’s broad suite of products uniting technology and content. He also brought along helmer Ron Howard, producer Brian Grazer and star Tom Hanks to promote upcoming Sony pic “The Da Vinci Code.”

He made only a brief reference to expansion of the Connect online media service, but Sony execs confirmed it will start offering movies for download to the PSP and other devices by March, as expected (Daily Variety, Jan. 5).

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