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CBS Eyes ‘Entertainment Tonight’ Streaming Service as Next Step in Digital Expansion

CBS has leaned heavily into digital distribution in recent years with new ad-supported streaming services and an ambitious move into original programming on subscription offering CBS All Access. Speaking at Variety‘s Innovate Summit Wednesday, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves said that the company is plotting another digital play based on its long-running program “Entertainment Tonight.”

“We’ve talked about next year launching a 24-hour entertainment news service based on our show ‘ET,'” Moonves said in a conversation with Variety‘s Cynthia Littleton.

The “Entertainment Tonight” branded service would be the most recent addition to a rapidly growing portfolio of subscription and free ad-supported services that includes Showtime’s direct-to-consumer offering, subscription service CBS All Access, free ad-supported news service CBSN, and an upcoming CBS Sports streaming service set to launch next year.

Moonves said Wednesday that the sports service will not be a platform for game telecasts.

“We’re not going to show games,” Moonves said, adding that the company is happy with its current sports-rights packages for the NFL, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, golf, and SEC football. “We’re virtually making money on every single one of them, except maybe ‘Thursday Night Football,’ which isn’t doing so well, but hopefully that changes. The sports rights business has gotten a little out of hand. A lot of packages out there are losing money.” The new sports-branded streaming service, which will be free and ad-supported, “will be more informational, more scores and highlights … but it will not be something you’ll watch a football game on.”

This year, CBS began making its NFL game telecasts available on CBS All Access — rights that, according to Moonves, CBS secured through barter with the NFL and without paying an additional fee. Moonves credited the addition of the NFL package and the launch of original series such as “The Good Fight” and “Star Trek: Discovery” for recent growth in All Access’ subscriber base.

“Our numbers now have exceeded over two million subs there,” on All Access, Moonves said. “Also over two million subs on Showtime OTT. We said we’d be at four [million] in the middle of next year between the two next year. We’re way over four ahead of schedule, so the plan is working.”

Asked about the torrent of sexual assault and harassment allegations that have engulfed media companies in recent weeks, Moonves said that the revelations have prompted policy changes within CBS.

“It’s obviously affected our business,” Moonves said. “It’s affected Silicon Valley. It’s affected Washington greatly.” Asked whether polices and practices within CBS were also affected, Moonves said, “No question.”

Moonves also spoke about the recent trend toward mergers and acquisitions in media, including the pending AT&T-Time Warner deal and exploratory talks that Fox has held with Disney and Comcast.

“It was pretty exciting, interesting to see what Fox may be doing,” Moonves said. “I was surprised by that. Then you see Time Warner and AT&T, what is going to be the fate of that? [The Justice Department] put a little damper on things.”

Moonves demurred when pressed as to whether CBS would entertain talks for a possible merger or acquisition.

“There’s a lot of conversation going on” in the industry, Moonves said. “Let’s leave it at that.”

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