CBS Corp. said Tuesday that beginning in September it would offer free, next-day streaming of seven prime-time programs on its entertainment website, continuing a trend among media companies that are looking to grab a bigger piece of the growing Internet-advertising pie.
New York-based CBS is not the only network to offer episodes on a broadband channel soon after they air on TV. In May, Walt Disney Co.'s ABC streamed four shows, including "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."
CBS' experiment is the broadest among the broadcasters so far, serving up seven programs, nearly a third of the network's prime-time schedule. The season-long project also seeks to shed light on what type of interactive advertising works for advertisers and consumers.
"There will be the possibility of targeting ads," said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media.
He said the ad mix could be changed to reach specific demographic groups. "We may even be giving viewers the option of what advertising they want to see," Kramer said.
CBS' broadband channel, Innertube, will have a "boss button" so people goofing off at work can tap a key to have the audio drop and their computer screen flip to an image of a spreadsheet if their supervisor is nearby.
The boss button recognizes that "prime time" for broadband entertainment is during the traditional workday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. rather than from 8 to 11 p.m., when TV viewership is at its peak.
The company will make available "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," "CSI: Miami," "CSI: New York," "NCIS," "Numb3rs," "Survivor" and its new drama "Jericho," about life in a small Kansas town after a nuclear blast. Episodes will be available online for four weeks after the initial network broadcast, except for "Survivor" and "Jericho," which will be available the entire season.
Most networks have limited their Internet streaming projects, in large part because agreements with their affiliate TV stations restrict the "reuse" of shows on different distribution platforms. However, CBS and its affiliates modified their agreement in June, allowing for more digital uses as long as stations get a cut of the ad revenue.
"Advertisers see value in these types of opportunities," said Tracey Scheppach, video innovation director for ad-buying firm Starcom USA.
Although networks have been experimenting with digital offerings for less than a year, some consumer patterns are starting to emerge. "Viewers seem to prefer watching free advertiser-supported content versus paid content without the ads," she said.
Scheppach said she was surprised by how many users viewed ABC's shows online during the network's two-month test. ABC said it accommodated 5.7 million requests for episodes, and it plans to bring back its broadband player this fall.
"CBS and ABC are getting closer to the end user," she said.
Shari Anne Brill, programming director for ad-buying firm Carat, was skeptical about whether next-day downloads would translate into big revenue. She also pointed out that there was no way to verify that the information that computer users were asked to provide, such as their birth date, gender or ZIP Code, was correct.
"We need to understand how these people are consuming programming through these new technologies," Brill said. "But more importantly, we need to get a better understanding of who these people are."