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CBS Weighs Options for Live Mobile TV

The Eye may not follow ABC down ‘TV Everywhere’ road for local broadcasts on smartphones, tablets

CBS at some point plans to extend its on-demand video apps to live local TV, but it hasn’t yet determined if it will mimic ABC’s “TV Everywhere” approach in making live feeds available only to subscribers of participating pay TV providers.

“Our point of view is, we need to figure out the business model,” Marc DeBevoise, CBS Interactive exec VP and general manager of entertainment, sports and news, said in an interview.

ABC this month bowed the free Watch ABC app in two test markets — New York and Philadelphia — and plans launch more broadly in July, when users will have to log in using credentials from a participating pay TV provider. The core TV Everywhere piece of the service is aimed at preserving the retransmission fees cable and satellite operators pay ABC.

This spring, CBS took a minority stake in Syncbak, a local TV streaming-video venture backed by broadcasters. As with the Watch ABC app, Syncbak is taking a TV Everywhere tack, in which live TV is available only to cable or satellite TV customers who verify their subscriptions.

For now, the Eye is evaluating the TV Everywhere authentication model, DeBevoise said, but the broadcaster needs “to figure out how we get paid” by pay TV partners for both in-home and out-of-home rights. Another hurdle is measurement, with Nielsen currently unable to aggregate mobile TV app viewing into overall ratings.

CBS has not set a date for when it would launch a live mobile TV app “but we are obviously looking at it hard,” DeBevoise said, adding that any such move would be coordinated with owned-and-operated stations and affiliates.

NBC and Fox have also discussed plans to deliver live mobile TV services, but they haven’t released details. Separately, the Dyle initiative, led by NBC and Fox, aims to bring live local TV to mobile platforms but is limited because it requires special-purpose antenna and receiver hardware rather than streaming video over the Internet.

In March, CBS introduced its first app for full-episode, on-demand streaming of primetime, daytime and latenight programming, seven days after air. That app, available for iPad and iPhone devices, has been downloaded more than 2 million times in the last two months, according to CBS. The programs are delayed one week because, again, the industry lacks a way to roll that viewing into a total TV viewership number, DeBevoise said.

CBS has stood apart from its peers in online distribution. Whereas ABC, Fox and NBC joined up to provide next-day access to current season fare on Hulu, the Eye retained rights to make that content available only on CBS.com. News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. are now trying to sell their stakes in Hulu.

“We think that has worked out pretty well for us, as we’re No. 1,” DeBevoise said.

For April, CBS.com had 11.7 million unique video viewers, more than double that of second-place ABC.com with 5.1 million, according to comScore; Hulu garnered nearly 23 million unique viewers.

In addition, the Eye touted its lead in social engagement. CBS’s Twitter mentions grew nearly 350% over the 2012-2013 season, outpacing the broadcast category (which was up 244% over the same period), according to Nielsen’s SocialGuide unit.

This fall, CBS plans to introduce a new app that will integrate the existing CBS Connect social app with the video-viewing app. That will include integrated social feeds, live events that allow fans to engage directly with talent, and second-screen experiences synched to the broadcast with additional content for select primetime shows.

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