By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld
Las Vegas -- Las Vegas -- CBS Corp. CEO Les Moonves took to the stage at the 40th International Consumer Electronics Show here to demonstrate that there is no longer a distinction between old and new media.
"We're all playing on the same big digital field," Moonves said of traditional media like his broadcast-television business and upstart ventures putting video and other content on the Web.
To show that CBS had its own digital mojo in motion, he shared the stage with some of the biggest names in online entrepreneurship, including the founders of YouTube , the market-defining video-sharing site that had barely launched when the 39th CES was staged, and Sling Media, the company that pioneered the idea of "slinging" shows you see on your home TV through the Internet to a computer wherever you are.
SLINGS AND TUBES
Without digging into the potential copyright reuse issues, Sling founder Blake Krikorian introduced a "Clip+Sling" service that would allow TV viewers to easily identify the starting and ending points of parts of shows they have watched, clip them using an on-screen scissors tool and then send the images via e-mail, along with comments, to friends.
The service was demonstrated with a clip from CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, with Moonves assuring the audience that the service would respect the rights of content creators. Among the benefits: The e-mail message that appears in the recipient's inbox prompts the user to buy a full episode or to subscribe to future shows.
After Krikorian came YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, whom no one at this show a year ago considered a factor in the re-emergent field of online video. He sold his company in midyear for $1.7 billion to Google, whose co-founder delivered a keynote here 12 months ago to tout an online video store that generated little subsequent buzz.
Hurley's message -- iterated by Moonves -- was that the CBS channel on YouTube was itself a success, with 75 million content views since the launch in November.
And CBS is clearly trying to show it understands the short-form nature of YouTube, using it to allow viewers anywhere to achieve their 15 seconds -- not minutes -- of fame. Hurley and Moonves showed off a YouTube contest in which CBS's audience is encouraged to file videos of their own making at that length, with an accompanying message of their choice.
The reward: The best video will be presented during the network's Super Bowl XLI telecast on Feb. 4.
This is "changing the nature of viewing television," said Hurley, in that Web sites are being used to bring viewers back to conventional TV watching.
Moonves was bent on showing that CBS also can dance digitally on its own, with homegrown innovation in interactive content.
Among the examples:
Paltalk.com, which allows listeners of CBS Radio's Opie & Anthony Show to install Webcams in their homes and interact with the hosts during the broadcast, even if they happen to be doing housework or wearing next to nothing.
Ourchart.com, where fans of The L Word on CBS's Showtime premium channel can connect with each other. The device: user profiles that visually depict their links to other users. In an example of life imitating art, the idea first surfaced on an episode of the show.
Fans Only: Watching a college-basketball shootout between Duke and Georgetown? Bring on friends in your video buddy list and watch the game along with them. They'll appear on your screen along with the contest and the fans can chat -- or worse -- as if together in the arena. Camera angles can also be chosen for disputed calls. Moonves called it "a virtual sports bar for college fans ... and you don't have to worry about being carded."
Along the way, Moonves also demonstrated his familiarity with the lingo and environs of digital content, making it clear that he knew about the "numa numa dance" and the effects of Mentos when inserted into soda bottles. Professional content could play on that field, not just YouTube, he said.
Moonves also appeared at last year's CES in the Google-Page keynote, touting the delivery of CBS shows through the Google Video Store. That was just following the CBS-Viacom split-off.
In the year that passed, CBS' stock price increased 25%, while his counterpart at the reconstituted Viacom -- CEO Tom Freston -- was fired by the man who run both shops, chairman Sumner Redstone.
Freston, by some accounts, lost his job at the company that runs the youth-oriented MTV Networks for not pursuing an acquisition of YouTube aggressively enough.
Now the same kind of buzz is building around an artificial online world called Second Life.
So maybe it was a message to investors and Redstone, and maybe it wasn't, but Moonves covered his bets by also having on stage Philip Rosedale, the founder of Second Life and CEO of Linden Lab, which produces it. At Second Life, users can create their own "mash-ups" of story lines from such shows as Star Trek, forging yet another relationship that could help Moonves to avoid a mash-up of his own.