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CBS Flexing Overseas Muscle, but Room to Grow Remains

Powerhouse and underdog, all at once

Americans traveling abroad, rest easy: CSI will be there when you land — along with NCIS and any number of hit series usually seen on CBS.

With licenses to more than 200 markets in more than 30 languages, the CBS Studios Intl. platform is broad and growing — in part because the network has spent years curating domestic hits that will slip easily into global syndication.

The result? For the second year in a row, CSI is the world’s most-watched series, while NCIS was Europe’s top drama in 2011.

“We have the most successful content franchise shows in the world,” says Armando Nunez, president and CEO, CBS Global Distribution Group, who along with CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler and CBS Television Studios prexy David Stapf will deliver keynote speeches at Canada’s Banff World Media Festival. “Obviously, our content travels exceedingly well.”

It’s all part of a well-executed strategy, says Horizon Media senior research veep Brad Adgate.

“They have conscientiously created self-contained shows they can sell in syndication globally,” he says. “There’s not a big demand for serialized shows, and (CBS Corp. prexy and CEO) Les Moonves has made sure they have shows that repeat off-net.”

In addition to its regular primetime hits, CBS also has found places around the world for content from CW, Showtime, CBS News and CBS Films, plus a library of more than 70,000 hours of programming. In addition, CBS has become more proactive in select countries with its digital channels — it has 22 channels in 20 languages in 87 territories.

It’s a good start, says Tim Wescott, principal analyst in TV programming intelligence for IHS Electronics and Media, but in this area CBS is not quite running in the big leagues just yet. IHS estimates CBS’ revenue from channels in 2012 at $53.3 million, compared with Disney at $487 million and Discovery at $798 million last year.

“CBS was a bit late to the party and hasn’t done (branded channels) to quite the extent of the other majors,” Wescott says. “MTV and Discovery were in the first wave of U.S. cable channels that launched (in Europe) as early as the 1980s.”

Still, one of the advantages such content providers as Warner Bros. and Disney have had in the past — the ability to bundle their Hollywood feature films with television content for sale to international broadcasters — may be fading, giving CBS a better advantage.

“Broadcasters are looking to buy particular shows now for particular niches and timeslots, so they’re not just looking for volume — they’re looking for individual shows,” Wescott says. “And CBS’ procedurals do outstandingly well on a show-by-show basis, probably as well as a big distributor like Warner Bros.”

It may be hard to imagine the No. 1 television network in America as the underdog, but that may be just the place CBS wants to be, as distribution and content needs continue to shift to accommodate new technologies and international consumer interest in closing the airdate window on certain series.

“Our business is not static,” Nunez says. “It’s always evolving, changing, providing new challenges and opportunities. We want to be proactive, not reactive.”

And, he adds, no one should underestimate the value of providing homegrown content overseas.

“It’s hard for Americans to understand until they go on vacation and are in Rome and see CSI on TV out there,” Nunez points out. “It all has to do with our reputation as a studio and a CEO who still has passion for broadcasting. That passion filters through the rest of the company.”

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