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CBS Set To Debut Broadband Channel

With the broadcast upfront presentations in less than two weeks, CBS is angling to hog the multiplatform spotlight early by launching their long-awaited broadband video player before the upfronts even start.

The network plans to debut its ad-supported free broadband channel as soon as Thursday, according to sources close to the network.

The channel will feature mainly original content, with some material connected to programming currently on CBS.  The site will most likely not launch with full-length episodes of shows airing on the broadcast network, according to sources close to the matter, although the network plans to stream full-length episodes of shows online in the future, as ABC begun doing with four of its series this week.

Although this new broadband site will be free, CBS has been testing different pricing strategies for online offerings of its shows. It recently lowered the price for online episodes of Survivor from $1.99 to $.99, adding ads to the stream as well.

Various CBS executives have made mention of an upcoming broadband site launch recently, although all said the site would likely launch during or after upfront week. The site was expected to be fodder for discussion at the network's upcoming affiliates meeting. CBS executives are in talks with affiliates now and say they the network is extremely concerned with affiliate relations regarding the subject.

CBS would follow ABC in launching fully ad-supported broadband streaming episodes of its programs. On Monday, Disney-ABC debuted a two-month trial site streaming episodes from four of its series. CBS recently had success with ad-supported streaming of this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament, earning more than $4 million in ad revenue from online Webcasts. It also runs an online only talk show devoted to Survivor.

Network executives told B&C that CBS Paramount Network Entertainment Group president Nancy Tellem was expected to unveil details regarding original series for broadband at CBS' upfront May 17. The broadcast networks' upfront pitches to advertisers take place the week of May 15.

CBS, along with the other broadcast networks, are firming up their presentations this week, deciding how much time to devote to pitching ad opportunities on emerging digital platforms, like broadband and mobile, and how much to focus on talking up new programming, as they have in the past. NBC Universal Television Group CEO Jeff Zucker, for example, has called NBC's upfront strategy this year "TV 360," vowing that every program in development will have a digital application.

While advertisers are clamoring to hawk their products on digital platforms, which can provide greater accountability than TV, multiplatform buys are expected to make up only a fraction of the overall TV ad market this year.