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ET, MSN Ink Online Deal

CBS and Microsoft reached an agreement for Entertainment Tonight to become the premier provider of entertainment news to MSN, the Internet’s seventh-largest Web portal.

ET, syndication’s top-rated entertainment magazine, will have a branded presence on MSN Entertainment and will provide content across the entire section, providing articles, videos and photos for MSN Television, MSN Music and MSN Movies.

ET already started providing some content to MSN, but the deal officially launches with the start of the new season in early September. CBS is working hard to bring ET and its sister show, The Insider, fully into the digital age: Over the summer, the two shows moved to brand-new HD studios in Radford, Calif. ET and The Insider start broadcasting in HD Sept. 8.

MSN will sell advertising for the portal, but in a syndication-like model, CBS is getting a cash guarantee plus a revenue split for advertising sales. The deal is expected to gross well into the seven figures in the first year.

In addition to ad revenues, the venture should significantly boost ET’s online traffic and exposure, most of which now is confined to the show’s CBS-run Web site, ET Online. averaged 107.3 million unique U.S. visitors and 18 billion U.S. page views in June, according to comScore Media Metrix.

“This is a perfect example of the type of endeavors we’ve charged [CBS executive vice president] Scott Koondel and his new-media sales team with,” said John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution. “This exciting partnership is a natural extension of the ET brand and should bring value to our affiliate stations, our viewers and, now, our online consumers.”

In August 2003, ET announced a long-term deal for Yahoo to run its Web site, ET on Yahoo. Once CBS became more digitally savvy, it brought management of the site back in-house. Since then, ET Online has been a stand-alone entertainment site. It recently has been attracting 1.7 million unique visitors a month, a 55% improvement over 2007’s online performance.

ET executive producer Linda Bell Blue expects the new deal to bring “stratospheric exposure” to the show, both online and on air.

The ET staff already works long days, starting around 5 a.m., but the show will now be operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week, updating MSN whenever entertainment news breaks.

To prepare for the change, the show increased its online production staff by 30%, said Bell Blue, who also executive-produces The Insider.

“We are staffed up, geared up and ready to go 24/7,” she added. “We want to take our content to new places.”

ET’s staff will be on hand to update the portal any time news happens, Bell Blue said, whether it’s Grammy Award-winning singer Amy Winehouse getting busted at midnight in London or young movie star Shia LeBoeuf rolling his truck in the early morning hours in Los Angeles. The environment has become increasingly competitive, including pressure from upstart, which also has a syndicated television show.

“So much news breaks overnight and we’re going to be all over all of it,” Bell Blue said.

ET will provide MSN with a minimum of five videos per day, some of which will be exclusive to MSN. It will also produce a daily mini-newscast called ET on MSN. The newscast will run about two minutes long and feature ET’s top-name talent, including Mary Hart, Jann Carl, Mark Steines, Kevin Frazier, Steven Cojocaru and Thea Andrews.