Does CBS get it?
First they go and buy Last.fm, and have the sense to leave it in London with the current crew still in charge, and now their CBS Interactive president, Quincy Smith, is talking major sense about how CBS tv and the web ought to get along, as seen in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. In the article he discusses their internet strategy, and it hits all the points I have consistently argued for: respect for the audience, giving the audience ways to spread the word themselves, giving them little bonuses for engaging your shows via the web, and encouraging discussion about you to flourish wherever it may.
The idea is to let their online material be promiscuous: Instead of limiting their shows and other online video to CBS.com, the network is letting them couple with any website that people might visit.
“CBS is all about open, nonexclusive, multiple partnerships,” said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive.
“The key lesson from Silicon Valley is respect for the audience,” said Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president and general manager of entertainment at CBS Interactive.
But the approach also includes that “Swingtown” element: CBS offers software to let fans of shows such as “Jericho” get production updates, photos, exclusive video and insider commentary, then post them on blogs and social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
He also is moving away from earlier strategies designed to bring people to CBS.com, such as the Innertube online service, which offers full streams of prime-time shows, clips and Web-only videos.
With the Audience Network, Smith’s strategy could be described more as “outertube.” The idea is to send CBS shows to other websites where people are already hanging out, to ensure that viewers don’t have to go far to find them.
That’s one reason why CBS is spreading its programming to other websites. For its “Big Brother 8″ reality show this summer, CBS offered photos, participants’ diaries, show recaps and full episodes on its website. But it also created software, known as a widget, to let fans post those things on their own blogs, computer desktops or Facebook and MySpace pages.
The network says that about 25% of the interaction with that programming happened somewhere other than CBS.com.
Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff said CBS’ new approach recognized that TV shows are social — fans talk about shows, so the key for networks is to make sure that conversation happens on their websites.
“It takes an awful lot of humility to recognize that it’s better to distribute the stuff off your site than to try to attract people to it,” Bernoff said. “That means if the viewer community wants to talk about it somewhere else, let them take it somewhere else.”
This represents pretty much the exact opposite of what the NFL is doing. It’s great to see mucky-mucks in a big media conglomerate recognizing that their role is to give the audience what they want and let the fans work their magic with each other rather than trapping eyeballs and trying to control everything themselves. Media do best when fans get talking. The internet lets that thrive as never before, and the smart media companies are those that figure out how to facilitate talk, wherever it may be.