CBS Throws In with YouTube, Says 'Show Me the Eyeballs'

YouTube began making noise last week about running full-length TV shows, but the biggest announcement came late Friday when CBS said it would showcase many of its shows at the Google-owned video site.

The CBS shows will play in YouTube's new "Feature View" format, which, presumably, will be of a much higher quality than the grainy user-generated videos we're used to seeing at YouTube. In fact, I would guess the new format at YouTube would be closely modelled after Hulu, which has emerged as the standard-setter for long-form web video.

In terms of programming, the really good CBS shows like CSI and Survivor will not appear at YouTube initially, but rather some less popular stuff like Star Trek and Beverly Hills 90210. The big titles might come later.

Fine, but there may be a downside: CBS and Google may now scour the YouTube servers for any and all user-generated CBS video, and either remove it or wrap ads around it, says Chad Cooper of OVGuide.com, an online video aggregation site. The former, to me, sounds a lot more likely. So it will be alot harder for you and me to jump on YouTube and find the latest Katie Couric interview, for example.

A little background: CBS was originally asked to host its content at Hulu, but balked at the prospect of sharing 30 percent of the advertising revenues with Hulu, which is owned by NBC Universal, News Corp (Fox) and some private investors.

CBS instead concentrated on delivering webisodes at its CBS.com website, and the results have been very good indeed by today's quality standards. Not HD and not perfect, but very watchable. The decision by CBS to move its focus and content away from its home site may have been the result of a jittery economy and a tough ad business, says OVGuide's Cooper. CBS just warned analysts that it would come up short of revenue expecations for the third quarter.

CBS now appears interested in immediately capturing large numbers of eyeballs for its shows (and the ads wrapped around the shows), even if the ad-sharing deal with YouTube isn't as favorable as CBS might have demanded a year ago. At YouTube, you will see ads before, during and after CBS webisodes--the same model used by Hulu.

And CBS is taking a bit of a leap of faith throwing in with YouTube in the first place; the Google-owned site is almost completely unproven for making real money for Google and its content partners.

Stay tuned.

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