CBS Strikes “Survivor” Deals with RealNetworks, GM

CBS executives are betting that fans of the “Survivor” series won’t be content to simply watch the series when it airs on the Viacom network, but will be keen to get exclusive series content delivered through streaming media and interactive TV.

To this end, through a deal with Seattle-based streaming media giant RealNetworks, CBS will make exclusive, behind-the-scenes footage from the upcoming “Survivor: Africa” series available on the Web on the network’s Web page. RealNetworks’ GoldPass service will also carry the streams.

However, there’s a catch. Like the partners’ earlier experiment in streaming “Big Brother 2” footage online, users must pay to see the content. CBS is charging a one-time fee of $19.95, or fans could subscribe to RealNetwork’s GoldPass service for $9.95 per month. Naturally, the content is viewable only via RealNetwork’s RealPlayer — which is in a heated competition against rival technology from Microsoft.

The plan is for CBS to make new content available each week on the Friday morning following the evening broadcast of “Survivor: Africa,” which begins Thursday evening. According to a statement from CBS, that content could include scenes from daily life in the camp, previously unseen clips from key scenes in the program, and interviews not shown during the network broadcast.

Whether CBS will have enough compelling video left over after each one-hour show remains up in the air, but executives say that the series has a built-in audience eager for all new “Survivor” content.

“As the Survivor franchise continues to grow, this is our latest attempt to offer more compelling content to our loyal fan base,” said David Katz, who is vice president for strategic planning and interactive ventures at CBS. “It’s also an effective way to extend the Survivor brand while creating a new revenue stream for CBS.”

Meanwhile, CBS also said it is selling advertising on the show’s Web site and on special interactive TV portions of the series. General Motors, already a “Survivor: Africa” advertiser as its lead vehicle sponsor, will gain signage on the show’s Web site promoting its new 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche, and a contest to win one of the SUVs.

Additionally, users of Microsoft’s interactive TV service MSNTV — formerly known as WebTV — will have access to special content sponsored by Chevy. The iTV promotion marks the first time that CBS has sold interactive TV advertising, and it will include ads and promotions like Avalanche giveaways.

“We are pleased to be able to offer Chevrolet such a broad platform on television’s top-rated show to launch its 2002 Avalanche,” said CBS’ senior vice president of primetime sales, Chris Simon, who also serves as executive vice president of new media sales. “From on-air to online to the first fully client-integrated interactive TV series, CBS and Survivor are providing an innovative and comprehensive way for our clients to reach their customers.”

At any rate, the news also serves to underscore how cross-media publishers value their interactive assets. While CBS is willing to sponsor its interactive TV and Web site with advertising, it sees bigger money being made from selling subscriptions to exclusive streaming content.

The sentiment is increasingly common among online publishers, who are trying to feel out which services can be supported by ads, and which they can successfully charge for.

On Wednesday night, Yahoo chief executive Terry Semel hinted at a suite of new, subscription-based services rolling out in coming months on his company’s portal. Meanwhile, Yahoo so far has repeatedly signaled an intent to make its broadband and streaming assets into paid services.

Similarly, Salon Media Group and SmartMoney.com — once both entirely ads-supported — both recently announced new paid services.

For his part, Semel defended online advertising as being effective in the long term, but conceded that paid, “premium” content would help the site stabilize its revenue in the short term.

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