This morning CBS TV Stations is announcing the CBS Local Ad Network with a goal of widely syndicating CBS TV Stations' content into the maze of locally-focused web sites and blogs. A ground-breaking effort, it is the latest evidence that the local broadcast formula is being re-written by broadband's potential. I got an exclusive briefing on the CBS initiative last Friday from Jonathan Leess, President/GM of CBS TV Stations Digital Media and Aaron Radin, SVP, Ad Sales and Biz Dev.
As I wrote early last week in "CBS TV Stations Get Broadband," syndication is a key driver of video streaming growth for the company. Recognizing changing consumer behavior, the new Local Ad Network enables news "widgets" - small information badges carrying local headlines from CBS's 29 stations which can be easily selected and embedded by local sites and bloggers. When users click on a link in the widget they are carried back to the local CBS station site. See the right column in the below example:
Each widget carries ads which are sold by CBS, with a revenue share back to the local site. Radin is excited about the ad network because it has the potential for vastly expanded and targeted ad inventory, which can be sold to many different types of advertisers depending on their goals. For example for AT&T, a charter advertiser, the network provides a national player with enhanced local access. Additionally, the ad network can provide the local CBS station's digital sales team with more in-depth coverage for a local advertisers.
The significance of the CBS initiative is that it continues to show that broadband is opening up new opportunities for local stations to go well beyond their traditional broadcast models. The concept of local newscasts in the morning, evening and late night is increasingly irrelevant. Also gone is the concept of finite air-time. The CBS deal shows that the "shelf space" on which CBS local content sits doesn't even have to be owned by the station any longer. Now the shelf space could just as easily be a 15 year-old local kid's popular blog on local sports who wants to provide a customized feed of high-quality local video to his visitors. Think about how that expands a local station's business model.
The whole area of local content syndication is really heating up. In this deal, CBS has partnered with SyndiGo, a new unit of Seevast to build out the ad network's local web site and blog distribution network. For other local broadcasters seeking to pursue syndication there are other choices. For example, WorldNow (note: a VideoNuze sponsor), which now supports 260+ stations around the U.S. has also stepped up its syndication activity, in addition to technology provisioning. It recently launched Supernanny-related content into its lifestyle channel, enabling more choice and ad inventory.
WorldNow, like other 3rd parties, believe that, in these tumultuous times, local broadcasters should be focused on content, ad sales and distribution, not technology development. With technology and the market moving so fast, that logic makes a lot of sense. WorldNow and others present the classic "buy" vs. "build" option for stations. While CBS and others may "build," there's no question for many other who want to syndicate and drive new ad sales, they'll prefer to do it in a "buy" scenario. All of this activity will have the effect of spurring continued innovation in the space.
One thing's for certain, there are myriad new technology choices and go-to-market options facing local TV broadcasters in the "syndicated video economy." Broadband presents unprecedented challenges and opportunities to an industry that has long operated under a highly formulaic approach.
What do you think of the changes happening in the local broadcast business? Post a comment!
(Note: This is the third in a series of posts with companies participating in the 2008 Media Summit, a premier industry event starting tomorrow in NYC. VideoNuze has partnered with Digital Hollywood, the Media Summit's producer, to provide select analysis and news coverage.)
A few months ago, in a post I wrote called "Broadcast TV Stations Most Threatened By Broadband/On-Demand," I asserted that broadband was bringing a perfect storm to the world of local TV stations.
These thoughts were in the background when I spoke last week with Jonathan Leess, President and GM of CBS TV Stations Digital Media Group. CBS owns 29 stations around the U.S. mostly in bigger markets. Leess has been in his role since April '04 and by all accounts has done an admirable job leading the CBS stations into the broadband era.
Most significant is the delicate balance he's tried to strike in centralizing certain online/broadband responsibilities while keeping others at the local level. This is no easy feat. Succeeding online requires scale and common technology platforms. Yet historically local stations enjoy wide autonomy in decision-making as long as they meet their numbers.
Leess explained that in broadband he's focused his corporate group on accessing and providing new non-local content, creating an internal syndication network for stations, developing technology and tools for all stations to use, focusing on national ad sales and training for local sales reps, and importantly generating new viewership by syndicating local stations' video to third parties.
A key part of executing the balancing act has been a relentless focus on work-flow and supporting technologies. Leess explained that the broadband activities at CBS TV Stations are a 24/7 operation involving hundreds of people around the country. Turning all of this into a well-oiled operation, particularly in the context of long-standing operational biases, has been an enormous operational challenge that Leess seems to have embraced.
His efforts seem to be paying off. CBS TV Stations drove 89 million video views from their own sites in '07, an average of around 8 million video views/mo from their own sites, a 71% increase over '06. It's gaining an additional 10 million video views/mo through syndication partners. The primary current contributor to syndication is Yahoo, with whom CBS TV Stations partnered in Oct '06. To put this in context, today's WSJ carried the adjacent graphic of select broadcasters' video views. Putting aside CBS TV Stations' 10 million monthly syndication streams, its '07 monthly average traffic would appear to rank it in the top 5, right around Discovery.com.
In addition, video clips are a big part of CBS TV Stations' success, as it is posting around 520/day and now offers a searchable library of 350K clips.
Meanwhile the Yahoo deal has been so successful that CBS TV Stations has clearly gotten syndication religion, with several significant announcements planned for the coming weeks. Leess explained how these syndication deals drive unprecedented consumption from out-of-market viewers while also creating valuable ad inventory. For pre-rolls, CBS is getting between $28-75 CPM, with banners fetching $8-18 CPM. Importantly, CBS TV Stations are aggressively bundling on-air/online/broadband packages, having sworn off broadband as a pure "value-add" some time ago.
While I stand by my assertion that local TV stations are most vulnerable to broadband's rise, it is also true that broadband offers stations fresh opportunities. CBS TV Stations' offensive approach shows that with the right leadership, strategy and operational plan, executing a successful transition to the broadband era is quite possible.
What do you think? Post a comment and let everyone know!