Xceed, CBS in Deal for Program Sites

CBS Entertainment is looking to Web shop Worldwide Xceed Group to promote some of its programs online, according to terms of a deal announced Thursday.

New York-based Xceed said its previous work for CBS — which includes sites for Survivor: The Australian Outback, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation — set the stage for an expanded deal.

Spokespeople from Xceed and CBS Entertainment, a division of CBS Television, declined to describe terms of the deal in detail, although they categorized it as a long-term, multiple project agreement.

New sites developed by the firm would likely emulate the existing Survivor and CSI sites, which include show updates, character profiles and video clips. The Survivor site also provides polls, chat, a set tour, and shopping, while the CSI site uses Flash to allow users to “browse” the CSI team’s case files.

Xceed said it would continue to integrate CBS’s branding, creative vision, and content into sites it designs — leveraging its own core competencies in digital strategy, technology, and design. Under the agreement, Xceed also will provide analysis of all CBS sites, measuring and tracking site trends and effectiveness in generating traffic and repeat visits.

For Xceed, which in recent months has been coping with slowing client spending by pairing down its operations and refocusing on specific vertical industries, it’s good news amid a series of grim announcements. In addition to a sagging valuation that thus far has failed to rise above the $1 per share price — despite a recent reverse stock split — the company is facing several class-action suits from angry shareholders.

“We’ve said for a while that our goal was to concentrate on key clients in a limited number of verticals, and certainly, entertainment is one,” said Xceed chief executive Howard Tullman. “With clients in hospitality and healthcare, I would say this is exactly where we want to be, a long-term relationship in a multi-year deal with leaders in these various spaces. It really doesn’t serve our purpose to do just ‘one-off’ projects for random clients.”

The deal also aligns Xceed with a media giant that has a fairly restrained plan for its online properties. Disney, for instance, has continued to waffle on its stance on its expensive Go.com portal. CBS, on the other hand, has shied away from major online investments, with the closest thing to a CBS portal being its stake in iWon.com (purchased for $30 million in cash and $70 million in media), and interests in niche sites like CBS Marketwatch.com, CBS Sportsline and CBS Healthwatch by Medscape.

“Of the various media companies, they’ve been among the people who were smartest about not over-investing in … the Internet, and that’s proven to be very effective for them,” Tullman said. “Now we’re helping them move in to next phase.”

“We’re going to have a continuing, long-term relation with them to develop sites across many of their properties and work very closely with them to do things I’d characterize as cross media initiatives,” he added. “That’s where we think a lot of things happening in digital space going forward. We think they’re among the guys moving most quickly and intelligently in the space.”

Of course, the agreement is also a sizable validation for Xceed — especially in light of the fact that it means CBS won’t be using the internal interactive services unit of its parent, Viacom, which has designed sites for Nick at Nite and the Sundance Channel.

“We’ve worked with [Xceed] before, but this new agreement is more far-reaching and longer term,” said CBS spokesman Dana McClintock. “We’re working with them on the most high-profile sites that CBS ever had. They’re the partners we want to work with going forward, building out other sites with much of our programming.”

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