Julian Clover sees benefits for the US producer and resignation for cable in the new CBS-Chellomedia joint venture.
The arrival of CBS into the UK market through the new 50/50 joint venture with Chellomedia means that all three, four according to how you count them, of the major US broadcast networks are now present in one way or another.
In many ways it has been a recent phenomena, News Corp has of course been here since the mid 1980s, but it has only been since the arrival of FX and the Fox International Channels business (which has a much larger presence in continental Europe anyway) that it has begun to make its presence felt away from that of sibling Sky.
Disney-owned ABC launched ABC1 in September 2004, initially as a DTT-only channel, a decision that didn’t help its longevity and it closed three years later. Now, however, the network is back through ESPN, while Disney Channel has been present since the early 1990s.
Many of us recall the 1993 takeover of the old Super Channel by NBC, the distribution network later seeding CNBC, but the Peacock Network is now back in the entertainment game through Hallmark, Universal Channel and Sci Fi.
In the UK, CBS will replace Zone Romantica, Zone Thriller, Zone Horror and Zone Reality, Zone Horror+1 and Zone Reality+1 with their own branded channels. Whether the CBS name is adopted on screen remains to be seen, but it is amazing what a US brand can do, just look at the conversion of NASN to ESPN America.
CBS has almost been here before, ten years ago it merged with Viacom, but the partnership didn’t work out, and the two companies formally split in January 2006. While Viacom walked away with cable brands that included MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon, CBS was seen has having the less viable broadcast business.
But CBS also has a distribution business with titles that include The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr Phil, Judge Judy, CSI, Star Trek, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond and Medium. So if the CBS brand may not be familiar to viewers in the UK, the shows will almost certainly be from appearances on channels both inside and away from the current Chellomedia family. For a US broadcaster and distributor could there be more money to be made from owning the channel and taking advertising and home shopping revenues than there is from just selling your programmes to a third party?
The Chellomedia-CBS agreement is all about the UK, but it is reasonable to speculate as to whether it might later be extended to continental Europe, where Chellomedia’s sister company UPC has the bulk of its cable households. Should that be the case then like Virgin Media, whose own content business has been perpetually for sale, we should be clear that that it is all about the pipe no longer showbusiness.