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CBS to Launch Retro Digital Channel Focused on Pop Culture, History

The CBS O&O group is finally developing its ample digital subchannel real estate, partnering with Weigel Broadcasting to launch an outlet devoted to vintage TV and pop culture.

The channel dubbed Decades aims to stand apart from other retro-TV services by offering wrap-around programming designed to highlight the overall theme of the day’s program slate. The anchor of this effort will be an hourlong daily program, “Decades Retrospectical,” that will examine the news and events of a particular day or period in history, and all of the programs airing that day will reflect the theme.

Billed as “the ultimate TV time capsule,” Decades will allow CBS to make use of its vast library of TV series, telepics and movies, which range from “I Love Lucy” (pictured) to “Cheers” to “Beverly Hills, 90210,” as well as the archives of CBS News, “Entertainment Tonight” and other inhouse resources. The channel will be carried by the 16 CBS O&Os, and offered to stations in other markets on a syndicated basis in exchange for a national/local split of advertising time.

The ambitious plan for the Decades services comes on the heels of last week’s news that the Eye was venturing into the SVOD arena with the launch of CBS All Access service, which also hopes to mine the Eye’s well-stocked program vault to generate new profits for CBS Corp.

For all of the Eye’s market clout, the station group partnered with Weigel, the Chicago-based indie that has carved a niche in developing digital channels including the widely distribbed Me TV service. Weigel owns a handful of stations in Chicago, Milwaukee and South Bend, but it has led the industry in mining the value of the digital subchannls that full-power local TV stations inherited in making the transition to all-digital broadcasting nearly a decade ago.

Back in 2008, Weigel teamed with MGM to launch This TV, the first prominent nationally distributed service tailored for local stations’ digital sub channels. Weigel is in business with the Fox Television Stations group on the Movies! Network channel that launched last year. Decades is targeting a second quarter launch next year.

“Decades is the most ambitious and creative subchannel programming service that has ever been created,” said Peter Dunn, CBS Television Stations president. “We are thrilled to partner with Weigel Broadcasting, the leaders in this space, to make smart use of our stations’ spectrums and our companies’ considerable programming assets. This service will be a tremendous new business for CBS and all of the other stations across the country that participate, regardless of their primary network affiliation.”

Weigel will handle distribution and sales for Decades outside of CBS O&O markets, which cover most of the top 20 TV markets.

“Decades takes the digital broadcast network platform to a new level,” said Weigel prexy Norman Shapiro. “Viewers will ‘Relive, Remember & Relate’ to the events that touched their lives and generations past. The events, themes and programming possibilities are endless.”

CBS had been slower than its rivals to develop programming for its digital subchannels. Eye O&Os in New York and Philadelphia have done local news programming on their channels, which will be replaced next year by Decades.

NBC has experimented with local news and weather offerings, and now has the Cozi TV vintage channel. ABC launched the LiveWell lifestyle and how-to network across its group and in syndication in 2009 but is pulling the plug as of January to focus on locally-oriented programming in each of its eight O&O markets.

The Ion TV station group has the Qubo kidvid service running across its 60-plus stations. Other station groups have filled digital channels with Me TV, Tribune Broadcasting’s Antenna TV, Sony Pictures TV’s GetTV and the startup Bounce TV, which targets African-American viewers.

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