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The future of television: Content still matters

Jim Lanzone, president of CBS Interactive, explains why the future of television is all about premium content.

Kai Ryssdal: We're spending a little time on the media competition this week. Television, and the future of it. What that means for the companies that deliver programming, the devices that'll do it and the advertisers who'll pay for it.

That's right up Jim Lanzone's alley. He's the president of CBS Interactive, that's the CBS network's online content division, which means he spends a lot of time where the Internet and the future of TV intersect. He joins us from the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Good to have you with us.

Jim Lanzone: Thanks for having me.

Ryssdal: So this is a kind of fundamental question, I guess, but what does the future of television look like from where you sit, inside the industry?

Lanzone: This year CES kind of reminds me of that old Yogi Berra quote: You can observe a lot just by watching. It's television everywhere. And before TV was just on your TV, and now you're essentially being able to access it on every device you can imagine -- so your phone, your tablet, but even places like your refrigerator.

Ryssdal: And then how do you as a content guy, how do you provide content to all those different platforms? Do you just spread out the same content, or what do you do?

Lanzone: Really online content, which is what we focus on, brings a new dimension into it. Your DVR brought time-shifting, so you didn't have to watch it -- just at a scheduled appointment time. And online lets you do place-shifting, which means you can watch it anywhere. And so, it's really on-demand viewing than appointment viewing that you would normally find on real TV.

Ryssdal: What does that mean, then, for programmers? Do they have to come up with all different kinds of content? You've got you and doing online, and does CBS the broadcast network have to worry about other things?

Lanzone: Yeah, it actually opens up a whole new avenue for a new kind of content. So we're not just restricted to 30 minutes or an hour for a show on television; we can have short-form videos.

Ryssdal: So we had a piece yesterday -- Jennifer Collins, our reporter there, did a story in which she was talking about Louis C.K. and how he recorded his show at the Beacon Theater and put it out online for anybody to pay whatever it was, $10, $15 to get it. Not a dime of that went to studios, went to networks, went to any intermediary, and I imagine that must scare the heck out of you guys.

Lanzone: No, I think it actually just supports the model of premium content. We're in the business of producing it in huge quantities. He produced one show, but we're both in the business of making our content and selling it. So really I think it just goes to underscore the fact that the future's going to be full of all kinds of devices, lots of different people trying to deliver that content -- but at the end of the day, content is what's truly valuable.

Ryssdal: None of that content, though, comes free, right, Jim? So you have to get the advertisers on board as well.

Lanzone: Right. And these new avenues of delivering content actually have opened up new business models. So for example, we're able to not just sell advertising against all these shows, but we can also sell the shows on demand. So you can pay per show that you want to download, or you can pay by subscription. So we have a "Big Brother" show online that you can subscribe to.

Ryssdal: All right, so this is going to sound like I don't know what's going on, but "Big Brother"? That's still going? That's a series? The people in the house?

Lanzone: "Big Brother" on CBS, yes. Big series.

Ryssdal: Who knew? Whatever.

Lanzone: We actually had hundreds of thousands of people subscribe to watch different variations of that show online. So not just watch the hour it's on television, traditional television, but also uber fans of "Big Brother" -- and there are some -- can then interact with that content, get additional videos online by subscribing.

Ryssdal: So once you get past the hardware, the future of television -- at least from where you sit -- is content, content, content, baby.

Lanzone: Right, and more content in more places. And at the end of the day, CBS Interactive and CBS will be there delivering that content to you.

Ryssdal: Jim Lanzone is the president of CBS Interactive, that's the network's online content division. We got him on the floor of the Consumer Electronics Show out in Las Vegas. Jim, thanks a lot.

Lanzone: Thanks for having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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