Innertube launched

CBS unveils broadband Web channel

CBS has pulled the wraps off Innertube, an advertising-supported broadband channel designed to lure younger viewers and online ad dollars to the network.

Channel, launched Thursday, will be widely promoted on CBS and provide an outlet for shows developed for the Internet; library shows like “The Brady Bunch”; and, pending talks with local stations, primetime shows such as “CSI” and “The Amazing Race” (Daily Variety, May 4).

“With this broadband channel, we’ve essentially bypassed cable and created a general entertainment outlet,” said CBS Corp. chief exec Leslie Moonves.

Overseeing content for Innertube will be Ghen Maynard, who returns to the Eye next month as EVP, alternative programming & entertainment content for new media.

The first shows on the channel were developed expressly for broadband, including “Greek to Chic,” in which frat boys learn personal hygiene and dating tips; “BBQ Bill,” a scripted sketch comedy series; and “Animate This,” in which celebrities narrate events from their lives via animation.

The net announced seven other original Web skeins to debut during the summer, as well as companion programming for CBS shows, such as “Beyond Survivor.” Existing online programs such as “House Calls: The ‘Big Brother’ Talk Show” will also get a window on Innertube.

“The online channel presents exciting creative possibilities and great business opportunities for CBS,” said CBS Paramount Network Television Entertainment Group prexy Nancy Tellem, adding that producers are eager to develop skeins for the Web.

Eye is negotiating with its affiliates on a deal to stream network primetime shows at some point after they have aired in exchange for profit sharing and some kind of promotion of the channel on local stations.

“The affiliates have shown a lot of interest in participating in this,” said CBS Digital media prexy Larry Kramer. “We are enthused about working with them.”

CBS move comes on the eve of the annual network upfronts, where all five nets will battle for 80% of their advertising budgets for the 2006-07 television season.

ABC has already started airing a few of its shows free online with ads. NBC has no entertainment channel yet but recently created NBBC, the National Broadband Co., a joint venture to pursue digital initiatives with its stations.

All four major nets have been pursuing broadband initiatives in part because Madison Avenue has started to funnel significant advertising dollars there.

“The computer screen, TV screen, cell-phone screen — they’re all coming together,” said Andy Donchin, director of national broadcast for media buyer Carat, a unit of Aegis Group.

In outlining programming strategy for the channel, Moonves said that shows could move between online and the network.

“Let’s say we had an idea that was a little bit out there,” Moonves told Daily Variety. “We could do five minutes a week (on Innertube) … and see if it catches on. It’s a cheap R&D lab.”

Unseen episodes of shows that never got an aud on the network, such as mid-season’s “Love Monkey,” will get a second life online, as will some of the 24 pilots commissioned by CBS that don’t make it to series.

“If something clicks there it could migrate to television,” Tellem said.

The advertising-supported venture is just one of several digital business models being tested at the network. The Eye sells full episodes of “Survivor” on Google and its own site for 99¢.

Moonves also hinted that CBS would soon join ABC and NBC in selling shows on Apple’s iTunes. “We’re almost done,” he said of the deal.

The net is also experimenting with a subscription model for online programming.

But the success of its broadcast of the NCAA’s March Madness, which brought 5 million visitors, indicated that advertisers were eager to get involved, even though it was unclear how many viewers would participate.

“They were willing to buy into it on faith,” Kramer said. “Now we know the advertising community is ready to support it.”

Moonves said he believes most of the recent new media initiatives announced by broadcasters will eventually be embraced universally.

“Within two years, everyone’s going to be doing everything that everyone’s announced,” he said.

Another revenue stream for the channel will come from product placement, whose presence in the first offering of original Web shows appeared to be more aggressive than is typical on network TV.

In “Greek to Chic,” frat brothers sipped cans of Dr. Pepper; they took their dates for dinner at Chili’s, also a show sponsor. Segments of “Beyond Survivor” contained traditional ad spots for Pringles.

“There will be product integration in some shows but not all of them,” Tellem said.

Moonves said Innertube and the Eye’s other new-media initiatives will have a place at the net’s Carnegie Hall upfront presentation to advertisers later this month.

“When you’re dealing with clients, they want to know what’s happening in new media,” he said. “We’re going to talk about it. But we’re not going to dwell on it. The upfront is still about the content, and our content is good.”

Moonves sees Innertube and other Web initiatives as a way to attract advertisers who either aren’t interested in or can’t afford advertising on CBS proper.

“When we did our deal with the NCAA, half of the advertisers were already on CBS and half of them (were new),” he said.

(Josef Adalian in Hollywood contributed to this report.)

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