CBS Eyes Start of New Events Business

Eye sees potential in using CBS News archives to create special confabs; first will focus on The Beatles

The Beatles Grammy Honor

CBS is banking on the Beatles to help it start a new line of business.

On February 9, CBS News is slated to hold a live event to mark the 50th anniversary – to the day – of the band’s first American television appearance on CBS’ “The Ed Sullivan Show.” A two-hour symposium held at New York’s Ed Sullivan Theater will feature CBS News’ archival coverage of key Beatles moments as well as experts moderated by CBS News Senior Business Correspondent Anthony Mason, who is known for his profiles of musicians on “CBS News Sunday Morning.”

The event will also mark the launch of what CBS hopes can be a sustainable business offshoot. Through a series of what the company is calling “CBS News Live Experiences,” the company expects to burnish its vast news archives while making use of its local TV and radio stations to reach out to consumers who might be interested in the events. Additional CBS News Live Experiences are expected to be announced at a later date.

“People are passionate about our media properties,” explained David Goodman, president of CBS Live Experiences, who is overseeing the business of the new venture. “We are thinking about how we could create more experiences around those assets and bring them to life in ways that go beyond broadcast – in the infotainment space, in the spoken-word space. We have a lot of opportunities.”

The move comes as other media companies – many of them featuring print publications at their center – have moved more decidedly into creating events that can bring them in closer contact with their readership base. The New Yorker, part of Conde Nast Publications, has held an annual festival of conversations, interviews and more, for years. New York Times Co. has also branched out into events that make use of the company’s staff of journalists.

CBS News feels its archive of news material “has really been underutilized,” said David Rhodes, president of CBS News. The unit in November tapped into its repository to broadcast on the web an exact stream of four days’ worth of coverage of the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, including anchor Walter Cronkite’s historic on-air announcement that the nation’s leader had been killed.

Typically, the CBS News archives appear when certain clips may be relevant to new segments on air, Rhodes said, including obituaries. The company may also license the material for use in films or other pieces of content. But there may be new ways to make use of footage and more, he said: “It’s not like you’re going to see more archival content in our regular linear broadcast, like ‘CBS This Morning,’ but you’re going to see it, I think, when there are good opportunities,” whether they come in digital or at events.

CBS will use the appeal of exclusivity to draw attention to its Beatles soiree. “The only way you can get in is to win,” said Goodman. CBS’ local TV and radio stations, and web sites associated with them, will make tickets available to winners, he said. The event, “50 Years: The Beatles.” will be live streamed on CBSNews.com, and will make use of rare footage from CBS News’ archives of the Beatles’ first three days in New York City and their Feb. 9, 1964 appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Among the experts appearing will be Pattie Boyd, British photographer, model and author; Andrew Oldham, British record producer and former manager of the Rolling Stones; Mick Jones, British musician and songwriter; and Julie Taymor, Tony and Emmy Award-winning director.

CBSNewYork.com will feature an extensive collection of photo galleries, archival radio interviews with the Beatles, and written pieces looking at The Beatles’ songs and cultural influence.

The idea has its roots in a series of “aftershow” musical presentations done by “The Late Show with David Letterman,” said Goodman. “Live on Letterman” offers digital broadcasts of live performances from the show’s musical guests, many of them not seen during the TV broadcast. The website also contains ads from sponsors.

The Beatles event will be sponsored by “Motown: The Musical,” and Goodman hopes future gatherings will lure advertisers who may not previously have thought of CBS.”It’s a new revenue opportunity,” he said. “I think that it allows us to go ahead and create new ways to work with advertisers on the experiential side.”