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CBS To Sell Showtime Shows

Reruns of Showtime's The L Word, 48 Hours Mystery and a score of other shows are on their way to basic cable and, for some, possibly broadcast. That occurs after CBS folds all of its programming distribution into its massive syndication arm.

With the move, CBS is prepared to go mano a mano with HBO in cable syndication following the hand-off of the potentially lucrative off-Showtime business to CBS Television Distribution (CTD), which dominates the first-run and off-network syndication markets.

CTD has already held discussions with basic-cable networks about The L Word, which will have 50 episodes by season's end that could be airing elsewhere as early as this fall or sometime next year.

Newer Showtime series on the CTD radar are Brotherhood, Sleeper Cell and Dexter, as well as The Tudors, a drama about the early years of England's King Henry VIII that debuts April 1.

CTD has also gained rights to many of Showtime's boxing matches, which could lead to the repurposing of classic slugfests and the creation of specials.

Scott Koondel, CTD executive VP of off-network, cable and interactive media, explains that he is open to selling Showtime's biggest shows to broadcast, too, as HBO did with Sex and the City, and to offering broadband rights to interested buyers willing to step up. Showtime retains control over its digital rights.

“It's too early to tell,” he says, “but there is a real opportunity there.”

In its move to compete more aggressively with HBO, CBS has taken a completely opposite distribution tack from the much larger Time Warner pay network.

HBO sells such shows as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under through an in-house distribution unit rather than the company's Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD) division.

WBDTD had sold HBO programming. But several years ago, it was spun off into a separate entity under the direction of veteran syndication executive Scott Carlin. Showtime had previously operated in a similar fashion.

The change in strategy comes amid increasing consolidation at CBS, which last year combined the industry's two largest syndication operations, King World and CBS Paramount Television Distribution, into CTD.

The move appears to signal a more aggressive posture by the company to monetize all of its assets.

Showtime presents a big opportunity for CTD. Its 14.5 million homes are about half HBO's audience. From CBS' viewpoint, that makes its programming appealing to potential buyers, since its critically acclaimed and heavily marketed shows will be new to many viewers.

Meanwhile, CTD has taken over distribution of CBS News product. Its first sale is to Rainbow Media's WE: The Women's Network, which, in an all-cash deal, has acquired 20 episodes of the 48 Hours murder-mystery series cherry-picked from the past two seasons.

CBS News had previously distributed some one-shot specials and series on a piecemeal basis but never formally. NBC Universal repurposes its Dateline segments on its own cable network, MSNBC.

“We're amassing a huge library,” Koondel says. “We've got the old Rysher Entertainment and Viacom libraries, along with CBS' made-for-TV movies and now Showtime and CBS News. Our television library is growing, with 70,000 hours of programming. We're firing on all cylinders.”