CBS Stations Go Direct-to-Consumer

Multiplatform Broadcaster of the Year

CBS Television Stations took a big leap toward ensuring that local content retains its prime place in viewers’ hearts and minds in an era that is increasingly defined by the likes of Netflix and other streaming behemoths. It is launching CBSN Local, a portfolio of 24/7 streaming services that deliver local news directly to the consumer.

First up are WCBS and WLNY New York, set to premiere their CBSN Local service in early December. KCBS-KCAL Los Angeles come next, scheduled for early 2019. CBS Television Stations’ other major markets — including Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh — will follow.

“We need to set our sights on the future,” Peter Dunn, president of CBS Television Stations, said. “We think the future is now.”

Streaming news network CBSN launched in November 2014, and features an average user age of 38, with nearly 80% of its viewers between the advertiser-adored ages of 18 and 49. CBSN Local will be available through CBSN, on and the CBS News apps and via CBS Television Stations-owned websites and apps.

Each CBSN Local service will offer live streams of a CBS-owned station’s regular newscasts. Multiple time slots in which a station does not have local news going will offer exclusive local content, provided by station on-air talent.

Dunn noted a “major investment” on both sides of the camera at the local level to deliver that degree of community content. CBSN Local will also feature coverage of breaking news and a library of content for viewers to access on demand.

Dunn said over a month’s worth of talent rehearsals led into the New York stations’ Local launch. “We need to be in this space to keep local news going strong,” he said.

Alan Wolk, co-founder and lead analyst at TVRev, said CBSN Local provides a key element that is mostly missing in the streaming world. “Local news on OTT is going to be huge — it’s one of the pieces of the puzzle that people are going to want over the next year,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people make that switch.”

More Traffic Despite Radio Retreat

CBS’s station sites have seen unique users grow by nearly 8% in 2018, even more notable in that prior to the current year, CBS’s local sites were combined platforms for both the corporation’s TV and radio stations. New York alone had all-news stations WCBS (AM) and WINS and sports talker WFAN among its radio properties. A year ago, CBS Radio was sold to Entercom.

CBS Television Stations’ video content on Facebook, meanwhile, is viewed close to 80 million times a month.

Digital figures suggest CBS is launching its Local initiative from a position of considerable strength. “We know our audience is moving there,” Adam Wiener, executive VP and general manager of CBS Local Digital Media, said. “It’s important for us to be there as well.”

When CBSN Local was announced in August, Jim Lanzone, CEO, CBS Interactive and chief digital officer, CBS Corporation, said the service will bring “a new level of depth to CBSN’s 24/7 original reporting,” thanks to local talent that’s been working the community beat for many years.

One might wonder if live streaming the 6 p.m. news on CBSN Local may chip away at a station’s ratings points. But Wiener classified the digital consumption as “additive.”

Added Dunn, “All we want is for our content to be available for everybody to see.”

Dan Shelley, executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, called CBSN Local “an extremely smart play” for CBS Television Stations. While stations have streamed their local content for years, he said partnering with a well-established news brand and audience base such as CBSN’s puts station content in front of a broader group of viewers. “The CBS-owned stations should be commended for trying to further reach their audience in different ways and on different platforms,” he said. (Earlier in his career, Shelley was director of digital media at WCBS New York.)

Different Viewing Habits, Different Platforms

Knowing that an increasing segment of the U.S. population does not consume television in a traditional manner, CBS is pushing hard to deliver its content on a variety of digital platforms. Days before CBSN debuted in 2014, CBS All Access, offering 10,000 episodes of library content and unique original series, was introduced. The service sells for $5.99 a month, or $9.99 with no commercials. The CBSN Local plans call for that product to be included as live channels in the various CBS markets for CBS All Access subscribers.

CBS also offers CBS Sports HQ direct to consumers. That launched earlier in 2018.

CBS Television Stations consists of 27 local outlets, including 14 that are aligned with the CBS network. They include WBBM Chicago, KYW Philadelphia, KTVT Dallas, WCCO Minneapolis and KPIX San Francisco. Some 60 million people watch the CBS-owned stations every month.

Dunn called ad-supported CBSN Local the “natural next step” for the station group. “We are committed to providing our premium content on all platforms and having multiple revenue streams,” he said.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.