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CBS Interactive: The Growth of Online TV and the New Water Cooler

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Online web video is now at a tipping point, but that doesn't mean it's anywhere near the scale of broadcast TV.

In this red carpet interview filmed at the recent Streaming Media East conference in New York City, Marc DeBevoise, senior vice president and general manager for CBS Interactive, talks about the new ubiquity of online video.

DeBevoise also looks at social element of online programming -- how water cooler discussions now happen online, as well as how CBS Connect is driving social interactions.

To view the entire interview, scroll down to watch the video below.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Hi, I'm Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen, editor of Streaming Media magazine and StreamingMedia.com here at the Streaming Media East show in New York City with Mark DeBevoise from CBS Interactive. You're the senior VP and general manager for the entertainment division. You were just on a panel called "Original web Series at the Tipping Point." What's your take on that? Are we really at a tipping point where original web content is starting to see the same sort of traction and rise to the same level as broadcast?

Marc DeBevoise: Well, I think putting it in the same category with broadcast is not the case. That's not true. That doesn't mean it's not a tipping point, right? It doesn't have to be as big as the sort of largest and most distributed media of a lifetime, which is television. So, I look at this as it is a tipping point. It's a very interesting point where there's lots of new series and new things being created for online. We're a participant in that with some of the other brands that we have at CBS Interactive, as well as our core entertainment properties. And there is traction getting there in terms of views. There is traction in terms of production. It just doesn't rise anywhere near the level of what broadcast television can deliver for audiences and for advertisers.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Sure, but if it is at a tipping point and the popularity is increasing, what do you see driving that right now? Is it the proliferation of devices and connected TVs?

Marc DeBevoise: No. I mean, I think finally most everyone has a broadband connection and everyone has a device from which to view that on, whether it be a PC or an iPad or whatever their device of choice might be. I think mobile's explosion in the last few years is also helping, and you're finding consumption is very easy. People know where to go to get that content, and they've learned the web, right? There's no longer this issue of, "Where do I go to get content?" or, "How do I find video?" Video's everywhere, every newspaper site, every television site, the likes of YouTube and others out there, so there's this huge sort of growth that's happened in the availability of that media, and now people are making really cool stuff for it, so I think that's what's led to this sort of explosion in viewership.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: So, if the content is there and the viewers are there, the one thing that seems to be missing or at least not yet figured out is the business model. Do you see advertising, pay-per-view? What do you see working for original web content?

Marc DeBevoise: I mean, look. It depends on the content. There's original web content that deserves to be behind a premium subscription wall and there's original web content that doesn't and it depends. And I'd say what's also missing is there really isn't necessarily scale across the board like there is -- like in television there's scale across the board and all the networks have enough viewers essentially to get advertisers interested and make sure there are viewers there every night. I think from the web perspective it's still choppy. There are audiences here or audiences there and they're somewhat niched, but what I think they're doing is trying to aggregate those niches together to create sort of interesting packages that people can watch and what advertisers can buy. And so we're at the beginning of that phase of the model and the growth is still there in terms of video. And so it's going to be played out over the next few years as to how that really pans out, and I would say there's going to be a mix of models. I would say for original web content predominantly it's going to be advertising today, because you need to gain those advertisers and being free and being available to the viewer, but that could change over time and depending on what the content is. I think for certain very niche properties or certain things it may be worthwhile to have a pay model that lives to get to that content.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Where does that leave a traditional broadcaster like CBS? Is CBS approaching original web content as something that is supplemental to the broadcast content you're already producing? Is it standalone? Is it a mix of those two things?

Marc DeBevoise: It's a mix. I mean, I really put it into two buckets around the entertainment content on CBS. One is an extension from the shows that we already create for broadcast, and those have really two reasons why we do them. One is to help promote and engage the audience around those shows and get people more interested in watching more of our television programming, but the second is also to create new modernization vehicles for online and sort of solve some of the rights issues that we have around content that we're not as free to do with the content as what we would like, so we create other content that is more readily available to us to use in different models. And then there was original-original content, which look around for CBS entertainment it's really about being talent show or demographic adjacent to something we already have so we have an ability to promote it. I use our series "Around the World for Free," which I would say it's almost like a hybrid between "Survivor" and "Amazing Race." It's not specifically like either of those shows. It can be marketed on the side of either of those shows. It's about sending talent around the world with no money and seeing how they fare. So, we used a performer from "Survivor" last year as the talent, as the personality, and sent her around the world for free sponsored by AT&T, great, successful program, original but on the side of something else that was already produced. And then, look, we also have 30-plus other brands at CBS Interactive that are truly about creating original content for the web. We have CNet. We have Chow, our food site. We have GameSpot, our game site, and all of these things are there creating original content, including video for the web, and so those are playing in the space of original video content every day and really they have their own brands and their own mechanisms for getting that content known about them.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Another piece of the puzzle is, of course, the social element, and obviously CBS is bullish on social media. You just launched CBS Connect, the social television platform. How do you define social television? How does it work? What do viewers gain from it?

Marc DeBevoise: I mean, look, TV has been social since its invention. People like to take the television shows they've watched and talk about them, and so what used to be the water cooler with five people talking about a show that they saw the night before now is an instantaneous conversation to millions of people via technologies like Facebook and Twitter. So, what we do with CBS Connect is we try to put those conversations together, because there are separate ones on Facebook and Twitter and potentially other platforms, and bring them to one place around our show brands and say, "Look, if you want to have a conversation around this show or around anything in the show, we allow people to filter what they are actually talking or reading about through the hash tags and other areas, so they're able to aggregate the conversation but also curate it for themselves so that they can understand what they want to talk about and be interactive that way. So that for us was Connect and, look, we think social's going to be really big for how it helps our program in both from a ratings perspective but also how it helps us from a traffic perspective. I mean, right now we're getting close to 15 percent of the traffic back to CBS.com from social-media leads, so from the 170 million-ish social followers we have across all these networks, we're now driving traffic back to our site. We're monetizing that traffic. We're bringing audiences back to our shows. We're promoting our shows and how they're going to be rated on air, and so we really feel that social's this great symbiotic relationship we have with our fans to sort of help them get more information, to help them see more around our shows, engage more and also drive back to us their eyeballs and their viewership.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: What about the next step of sort of social television, which at least some people think is going to be the second-screen apps, things like ZBOX in the U.K. or to a lesser degree something n2Now here in the U.S. People are watching television with their iPhones in their hand or with their iPads on their lap, and these apps, the theory is that they will engage people on a deeper level. What is CBS's take on that or what is your take on that, if you don't want to speak for CBS on that one?

Marc DeBevoise: I'm always speaking for CBS. Basically we have two sort of plays in that space. The one is Connect, which we just talked about, for CBS is that if you're watching a CBS show, we'd like you to engage with it on our platform. And we're trying to aggravate the conversation that's from multiple social networks into one platform so that you can do that, right? And that's available essentially on all devices. It's iPhone. It's Android. It's iPad. It's web. It works across all those areas, and that's straight from our web site. So that's Play 1. Play 2 is a site we own called TV.com, which we've recently merged with a company we bought called Clicker, and that technology- look, it's a massive database of data around television shows. It's an ability to find that video online, which is what the Clicker technology was, but the way we really think about it is that TV.com is for the before, the during and the after of a television program. If you want to be around the community of that program and you want to interact with other fans of that show or those shows that you like, you can go to Facebook and have that interaction or you go to Twitter and have sort of the live interaction, but what TV.com is bringing you is sort of all the information that you would want before, during and after, where a lot of those other, we think, social networks focus mostly on the during, right? So we're trying to kind of bookend that conversation with all those pieces. We have 10 million users on the site, and we compare that to some of the other folks out there who are building specifically apps or syncing technologies, trying to aggregate all that traffic, and we look at it and say it's really going to be about information, about what people want to find out and do there, and when it's about true interaction with just purely the show and those pieces, we think people are going to end up going to the network properties or around the network. So, Connect is our network property and sort of TV.com is our broad play around the audience of social television.

Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen: Very cool. Thanks so much for joining me. This is Eric Schumacher-Rasmussen signing off from Streaming Media East in New York. Thank you.

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