At our NewTeeVee Live conference today, Om kicked off his fireside chat with Quincy Smith, CEO of CBS Interactive, saying: “This is the official exit interview of Quincy Smith leaving CBS interactive. Somebody better take some notes.” OK, here goes!
While Smith didn’t give us much of an “exit interview,” he did give us some insight into what CBS and other TV networks are looking for in the push to get content onto the web. In reviewing the last three years at CBS Interactive — and a look ahead at the next three — Smith gave his “one man’s opinion” that “the future of TV is video. It doesn’t matter what screen you watch Ghost Whisperer on on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.” What matters, instead, is that it’s viewed, those views are counted, and the people involved in making and distributing that content get paid. “That’s the next focus of the next few years,” he said. “It has to work for the user, and it has to count.”
CBS has been a high-profile partner in the push for TV Everywhere initiatives, and while Smith pointed out that there are plenty of players — from MVPDs to content companies to the “third-party referees” like Nielsen, not to mention aggregators, streaming partners and other distribution platforms — he stressed that there are critical issues for all the potential implementations of the technology: “The speed is linked to the success of how good this initiative is going to be.”
In part, he points out, that’s because of increasingly sophisticated, easy-to-use tools for acquiring content illegally. He pointed to the increasingly slick, accessible sites from which consumers can download torrents. TV Everywhere initiatives will need to compete with the ease and convenience of these sites. Given this focus on ease and convenience, Om pushed Smith to explain why he’s a Hulu hater.
He quickly denied being a Hulu hater, praising the site’s success and appearance and calling it the best place to watch streaming content online, but stressed that the business model just isn’t there yet. “Before you go putting [your content online] in full episodes, you gotta take it to the audience and make sure they know that it’s on this screen,” he said referring to the need to encourage viewers to watch broadcast television.”For now I have to enforce the big screen, because that’s where the money is.”
Despite the big-screen boosterism, Smith talked a lot about his desire to find ways to exploit the web — IP delivery of video — as a new medium. He pointed to a few examples to describe what he meant, at various points in the discussion, citing Google, fantasy sports and MySpace. MySpace’s return to its music-focused roots garnered his praise: “Discovery [of new music and new bands] is like the fantasy sports of music,” he remarked, noting that discovery tools tend to make consumers more of a fan — a bigger consumer of music, ephemera, concert tickets, merchandise and more. “We’re a media company, so how can we do something like that?” he asked.
He stressed that everything CBS does is aimed at this view of online video, though the discussion was light on examples. Om interrupted to ask the next, obvious question: “So, if its so great, why are you leaving?”
Smith’s response was that he’s not fully leaving CBS. “CBS is my first client,” he said. “[But I’m convinced] I can do more from outside than I can from inside at this point.” He noted the broad team that is now in place at CBS Interactive and CBS’ position as a top 10 Internet site in terms of worldwide visitors. “The 9 above us are all pure-play Internet companies. Nos. 11, 12, 13, 15, 22, 28 are Comcast, NBC, Viacom, Disney, the New York Times.” The challenge is no longer attracting an audience — it’s about monetizing that audience and getting paid.
Key to achieving that goal, he repeated frequently, is metrics. “Now that the web is growing up, it’s as much about target-ability and ROI as it is about mass distribution,” he said. Fortunately, “the beauty of the web is it’s an infinitely quantifiable new medium. We have to translate that into reach and frequency.” Whether through super-syndication online, TV Everywhere initiatives or other distribution strategies, Smith said CBS’ goal is the same: “Make sure your core content gets seen, gets counted, and gets paid for.”
The ultimate goal? “One day soon, I hope to be able to deliver to [Comcast Interactive Media’s] Amy Bance one stream. She puts it on the air, online, on demand, wherever.” Describing ad integration in all those distribution formats, he said the ideal would be to see integrated ad delivery across platforms — online ads for Diet Coke, say, paired with a mobile ad for 99-cent sodas at the corner store nearby. “That’s what we all want, even if we have different ways to get there,” he said.
That’s where the content companies want to get, but where does Smith want to go, come Jan. 1, when he leaves CBS Interactive? “I might be an investment banker for the rest of my life,” he said. He denied raising a fund, and suggested that there’s a need for bankers in the Valley. “There’s a whole generation of entrepreneurs out there…that don’t fully appreciate what a banker is. That’s a bad word for people.” But for Smith, there’s a need for bankers who understand and are passionate about the technology. “Bankers put two things together and try to make ’em work.”
Related research: TV Everywhere (subscription required)