Another day, another way to watch TV. This time, CBS has joined the party by unveiling a service called "innertube"—an ad-supported video channel available directly from their web site.
ABC recently launched a similar service, which streams reruns of four of that network's most popular series. ABC hasn't committed fully to the concept, however, and only plans to offer its service as a two-month test run.
CBS, for now, appears fully committed to innertube, and how long that lasts will certainly depend on what kind of revenue the service is likely to generate. The network has chosen to follow Microsoft's own recent TV venture down a more original path, premiering a selection of programs that are unavailable anywhere else. This is likely meant to ease the concerns of many network affiliate stations, many of which see online streaming as a threat to their existence.
In fact, the CBS format could actually work in favor of the affiliates. Of the three shows now offered on innertube, two of them tie in directly with "Survivor"—a move reminiscent of NBC's TV360 initiative. Both "Survivor Live" and "Beyond Survivor" exist as counterparts to the long-running reality show, and will probably serve to enhance the frenzy of "Survivor's" most rabid fans.
"Greek to Chic" is the third program offered, and has kind of a "Gal's Eye for the Frat Guy" feel, in which college frat brothers are encouraged by the hosts to be polite to the opposite sex, eat with silverware, and clean up their rooms. One can only imagine the fun that might ensue if Judge Judy ever signs on as a guest host.
More shows are planned for innertube, including "BBQ Bill," a comedy starring actor/comedy writer Rick Najera, "Animate This!," which animates stories based on the lives of the celebrities who narrate it, and "The Green Room," described as an irreverent look at CBS programming. CBS has also not ruled out eventually adding episodes from its broadcast lineup as well, but no solid details are available.
Both innertube and ABC's streaming channels—if one can properly call them that—use the Internet as the medium but follow a well-traveled path to revenue: commercials which can't be skipped are dotted throughout the programs at regular intervals, bypassing those troublesome DVRs and their timeshifting capabilities. Additionally, product placement is rampant, and given the currently limited number of sponsors, I predict the rise of some quality drinking games based on what we might call "spot the logo."
Quality original programming will probably have a strong say in the success of TV's new direction. Since networks can't count on streamed programs carrying viewers over to other shows as in the traditional linear programming model, online viewing is likely to depend more than ever on the "water cooler" factor. Viewers will seek out the programs others are talking about. That will require creativity, a factor not unknown in network programming, but certainly in short supply.