I must confess that I did not have high expectations for a tech and copyright friendly atmosphere when CBS Corporation Leslie Moonves took the stage at CES late yesterday. Les, who I knew from our time together on the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Television Broadcasters (The “Gore Commission”) was, I thought, an “old media” guy, and CBS (then owned by Viacom) of course was famous for its never carried out threat to pull its HDTV lineup if the FCC did not implement the broadcast flag.
I was very, very wrong. CBS is distributing and creating content in every imaginable way, and is dedicated to interacting with its audience in a manner never possible in the analog age. Moonves alluded to the recording industry's woes, and rather than blaming its customers, he blamed the industry for not learning to use technology, or as he put it being “in front of the parade” led by technology companies. I couldn't believe my ears when he said that CBS wants the audience to “rip, mix and burn.”
Here are just two examples of how CBS is using technology: 1) CBS radio shock talk radio hosts Opie and Anthony interact directly with their audience through a video chat called PalTalk. Through small screens in their studio, they have chats on the air and off the air with a wide variety of fans; 2) CBS permits fans to take their content and do mash ups – one very funny one, entitled “Endless Caruso One-Liners,” is a series of very short clips of CSI-Miami star David Caruso saying corny one-liners (usually after viewing a dead body), and either putting on, or taking off, his trademark sunglasses. Imagine that – a copyright owner simply permitting fans to take their content and play with it. (Ironically, this latter type of activity would be impossible if there was a broadcast flag for digital TV).
But Moonves saved the best announcement for last, and my jaw dropped when he introduced IP3 award winner Blake Krikorian, who is the CEO and co-founder of Sling Media, maker of the Sling Box, which allows you to watch your local TV from anywhere in the world. For reasons I still cannot really figure out, many broadcasters either fear or dislike the Sling Box, and Moonves himself admitted that he wasn't sure what to make of the technology when he first learned about it. But in a happy twist, Blake announced that
CBS is partnering with Sling in a new service called Clip & Sling, which permits fans to send short clips of CBS shows to anyone over the Internet. For a big media company like CBS, this agreement is nothing short of radical.
Les Moonves and CBS clearly understand that if you let your audience use your content to make new content and otherwise have input into that content, they will be loyal fans. For that reason, they are now at the head of the parade.