CBS In Distribution Pacts with AOL, MSN, Brightcove and Others

Media giant CBS has signed with AOL, Microsoft, Comcast and numerous others to create a video distribution network it’s christened the CBS Interactive Audience Network. Under terms of the various agreements, CBS will share its programming with partners while handling primary ad sales itself.

Other partners in the new network include Brightcove, CNET Networks’, Bebo, Netvibes, Sling Media and Veoh, which join pre-existing distribution arrangements — both paid and ad-supported — that CBS has with Yahoo, Apple iTunes, Microsoft’s Xbox, Amazon UnBox and YouTube.

The deal is similar in structure and scope to a venture announced late last month by News Corporation and NBC Universal formalizing video distribution relationships with AOL, MSN, MySpace, Yahoo and other unnamed partners.

CBS has first shot at selling ads against its premier shows but will also share advertising opportunities with its partners, said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive.

“We’re all about making sure our partners have inventory that they can sell as well,” he said. “It’s the collective strength of all the partners. It’s an embrace-and-extend philosophy as opposed to hose the other guy and sign exclusively.”

“But we need to be paid for our content. That is one thing we made abundantly clear, including the YouTube content,” he added.

Brightcove Chairman and CEO Jeremy Allaire said CBS is setting a new benchmark for premium syndicated content and ad sales on a large scale.

“There’s been a big barrier in the past where distribution outlets would be seeking to control the sales of advertising on their sites, but this is a milestone that suggests that it’s possible to syndicate media [and advertising] and flow that out across the Internet as widely as you can,” Allaire said.

As shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “Survivor,” and “Late Night with David Letterman” become widely available on video players from Brightcove, AOL, MSN and others, partners will be able to create communities around it.

“CBS is ultimately going to be the programmer. So it allows them to be really flexible as the programmer and get closer to their audience,” said Yvette Alberdingkthijm, EVP of content strategy and acquisitions for Joost, which launched recently. “As soon as the content launches you can go to the CSTV channel on Joost or the CBS channel, or maybe we’ll put a CSI channel on there.”

The formation of the Audience Network came about in just over eight days, according to Smith. “The fact that we were able to get that many new partners lined up in eight days is a huge testament to the market and to our partners,” he said. “We compete with the LonelyGirl out there, so we need to get our stuff out there. We have to serve it up to our audience in a non-uniform way. The key is to leave it in the hands of the people that are better at it than we are.”

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