NAB SHOW 2019

KCBS Los Angeles To Launch On OTT

KCBS will be CBS Television Stations’ second station to launch an OTT stream, signaling the company’s confidence in the platform as both an essential conduit to new viewers and a potent future revenue stream.

Adam Wiener

LAS VEGAS — CBS-owned KCBS-KCAL Los Angeles will join New York sister station WCBS with their own OTT channel in the coming days, part of a growth strategy on the platform CBS Television Stations sees extending to most, if not all, of its stations.

Speaking at the NAB Show here on Sunday, Adam Wiener, EVP and GM of CBS Local Digital, said he sees OTT “as the obvious next step” for local news.

“In a time when all you hear about is contraction in local news, this is an investment and innovation,” Wiener said. “This is not an experiment. We’re in for the long haul and this is the future.”

Wiener wouldn’t pinpoint a date for KCBS’s launch, but he said that other CBS stations will follow as part of the company’s bullish OTT strategy. “We know that there’s demand,” he said. “We have to launch as many markets as we can.”

CBS does a daily study of different OTT data points and plans its rollout across new stations as the platform’s market matures in different DMAs, Wiener said. But each launch will present unique challenges, he added, with some facilities being readier for OTT in their control rooms and studios than others. Ad insertion and management also remains a challenge across the board, he added.

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That said, Wiener is adamant speed is the key in these early days of news organizations in the OTT space, where planting the flag quickly has multiple upsides. For instance, WCBS was able to piggyback on first mover advantages and learnings gleaned from CBSN, the digital news arm of CBS Interactive, including content strategy, discoverability and back end technology.

“Building inventory and habits now is really critical,” Wiener said. “It’s only going to grow, so the quicker you build it out, the quicker you can leverage it.”

CBS, whose smaller markets are still relatively large (like Baltimore and Pittsburgh), also has the built-in benefits of scale, of which it aims to take full advantage.

On the content side, early experiments have yielded breakout new features. One is WCBS reporter Elle McLogan’s The Dig segments, which run almost daily, uncovering unique and little known corners and people in New York.

Wiener said the segments, which McLogan shoots on her phone and then discusses in studio with an anchor, will be replicated across CBS’s other markets as the OTT rollout progresses.

Given that OTT isn’t shackled to the same time constraints as broadcast, WCBS is also learning that it has room to expend and deepen its stories on the platform. That dovetails nicely with the longer engagement times the station is seeing on OTT than other digital platforms like mobile.

On the time front, Wiener knows he doesn’t have an infinite runway to show an ROI on CBS’s OTT investment. Therefore, direct sales in local markets — rather than a pure reliance on programmatic — will be key. And unlike other digital products that many broadcasters have struggled to translate into meaningful revenue (such as banner ads), OTT offers something local clients — and sellers — can better relate to.

“This feels more like TV,” he says.

Right now, OTT is bundled as part of a larger sell. Because of a plug-in to CBSN, Wiener says the company has a “pretty good inventory” that can be augmented by programmatic networks to fill in the gaps.

As he continues to lay out CBS Local’s OTT groundwork, Wiener says he has support from the very top of the company (he reports to both the division president and the chief digital officer) and is unencumbered by the kind of cross-divisional challenges that have dampened OTT moves elsewhere.

And the company’s stations are ready to jump on board following WCBS’s example. The newsroom there understood that younger audiences are coming into the market often unaware that Channel 2 exists or that CBS New York is a brand, Wiener said. It’s a market reality all the stations need to acknowledge and pivot to, knowing that those same viewers still want local news content, if only in a new space.

The stations are “very invested in this,” Wiener says. “They see it as the evolution of their product and their viewership.”

Editor’s note: A previous versions of this story referred to CBS Local’s effort as an app. It’s actually a stream that will be available in the already-lauched CBS News app, the CBS Local app and station websites.

For more NAB Show coverage, click here.


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