The Moves Behind The Simulcast

(CBS/AP)
On the heels of this morning's news that CBS News will be simulcasting the "Evening News," we decided to revisit a story we did back in late October. Back then, we wondered why there wasn't more of CBS News' content available online in its entirety – as opposed to shortened clips of "60 Minutes" broadcasts or selections of "Evening News" segments. At the time, we spoke with Preston Farr, senior vice president of affiliate relations at CBS, and Betsy Morgan, senior vice president and general manager of CBSNews.com, who explained that the reasons were a combination of exclusivity agreements with affiliates and a lack of demand for full-length programs online.

So, nine months later, what has changed? The network's agreement with affiliates for one, Farr told us. The existing agreement, which dealt with a variety of issues including the restrictions on repurposing news content, expired this year. One of the changes in the new contract is that CBS news programs are exempt from the restrictions that previously existed, said Farr, which means all news programs can be repurposed on the Web in their entirety.

And what about Web users' tendency to prefer bits and pieces of video content, instead of full-length programs? Morgan still sticks to her comments to us back in October, which cited that tendency as one of the reasons CBSNews.com didn't feature full-length programs. But over the last nine months, "we've seen an interest in watching full broadcasts online," in both the realms of entertainment and news, she said, citing the success of PBS' "Charlie Rose" on Google video and the popularity of full-length programs on iTunes. Still, the press release notes that "viewers may build their own broadcast by choosing individual reports from each CBS 'Evening News' program."

The move is also tied to the launch of the new "Evening News" – where the strategy is that "you can see it now, anytime and anywhere," said Morgan, as opposed to only on television at 6:30 p.m.

The simulcast will be ad-supported, but won't include affiliate advertisements – in other words, you might see a commercial for Ford, but not a commercial for a local Ford dealership. Showing local ads on the Internet simulcast is something CBS would like to do, but it's currently a technological barrier, says Morgan. (However, affiliates have been given an additional commercial spot during the "Evening News" broadcast on television.)

The obvious question -- if affiliates can't run commercials on the simulcast program, why did they agree to the arrangement? The online simulcast and on-demand features will "ultimately be more beneficial to them," says Farr. "It allows the broadcast to gain a bigger, perhaps younger, fan base."

In negotiating the contract, says Farr, there wasn't that much resistance from the affiliates to the idea. "It's generally accepted that when a program is simulcast on the Internet, you're not cannibalizing it, but opening up the programming to additional consumption."

"The simulcast is not a threat to viewership, but an enhancement," said Farr. "It's a promotion of the show rather than competition for it," he said.

Simulcast viewers are required to register in order to view the program, which will also prevent them from watching the program before it is aired on television in their time zone. "The real reason for [registration] is we want to know the people who are watching -- who they are, etc.," said Morgan, adding that "we also want to be respectful of the affiliates" so that the simulcast doesn't pre-empt the televised show.

Of course, those real "Evening News" junkies could always put the program that airs at 6:30 p.m. EST on a service like YouTube before it airs on the West Coast, couldn't they? "They could do that," said Morgan, "and we'd send them a cease and desist letter."

Since all CBS News programs are now exempt from the restrictions on the Web, broadcasts like "60 Minutes," which is currently only available on the Web in short segments, could conceivably be put online as a full-length broadcast. Morgan said that there would probably be some more announcements about developments like that sometime in the future.

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